Science and Technology News

Friday, June 22, 2012

STARBASE Wisconsin seeks to build on early success

By 1st Sgt. Vaughn R. Larson
Wisconsin National Guard

Two months after the first class of Milwaukee fifth-grade students entered a hands-on environment for science, technology, engineering and math, officials cut the ribbon for the Department of Defense-funded education initiative, STARBASE Wisconsin.

Administered by the Wisconsin Air National Guard and based at the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Milwaukee, STARBASE Wisconsin provides 25 hours of interactive learning over the course of five weeks. Dr. Charisse Sekyi (pronounced SAYchee), STARBASE Wisconsin director, said the academic outreach program has exceeded her expectations.

"The activities are so engaging," Sekyi said. "It's such a rich curriculum, but it's very rigorous so there's some work that we have to do to meet the kids where they are and bring them up to where the curriculum is."

STARBASE is an acronym for Science and Technology Academies Reinforcing Basic Aviation and Space Exploration. The program began in Michigan - a collaboration between an elementary teacher and the Michigan National Guard - and was adopted by the Department of Defense to address the need to raise the interest and improve student knowledge and skill in science, technology, engineering and math. Sekyi said teachers and school principals have told her that no similar program is offered in Milwaukee schools.

"A lot of elementary science education is not hands-on - it's paper-pencil-book," she said. "To be able to bring this level of activity down to the elementary level is really phenomenal."

Reginald Lawrence of the Milwaukee Public School system said the district is excited to be part of STARBASE Wisconsin.

"In school, kids don't always get a chance to do hands-on activity," Lawrence explained. "This is going to be a great opportunity for them to experience science, technology, engineering and math in a fun, hands-on way."

Mary Staton, MPS science curriculum specialist, agreed.

"We in science education plan a curriculum from the textbook, identify the work that students will do in science, but one of the biggest pieces is having a community to support that work," Staton said. "The curriculum runs directly with the work we're doing in science. Our fifth-graders will be able to build on those concepts through STARBASE. They'll also be able to have an application of the science, which is sometimes something we miss in our classroom. We can do it here at STARBASE."

Brig. Gen. John McCoy, commander of the Wisconsin Air National Guard, said STARBASE Wisconsin has enjoyed early success.

"The buzz in the room when they're here is just so exciting to watch," McCoy said. "To actually be able to talk about something and then step aside and actually do it and see the results … that's what this is all about."

Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, joked that the purpose of this program was not to recruit fifth graders into the military. However, he noted that many people seeking to enter the Wisconsin National Guard today lack the skills and knowledge required, relaying that one of the program's goals is to help fire the imagination of young students and help them develop technical skills for civilian and military opportunities.

"Our standards are incredibly high," Dunbar said. "If you wear this uniform, you have to be somebody special. So a chance for us to do something in partnership with the Milwaukee School District and in partnership with the community here in Milwaukee, and we're very excited about it.

"We won't solve all the problems with this little class," Dunbar continued, but we're going to solve some."

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch echoed Dunbar's sentiments.

"Wisconsin's economy is based on the bright young minds that we are raising up through programs like STARBASE," she said. "What you are doing here is raising our next generation of manufacturing leaders as well as military leaders. What you are doing here is assuring that Wisconsin's economy and the protection of our United States of America and the great state of Wisconsin will continue in the hands of today's youngsters." 

Students learn basic robotics programming, Newton's laws of motion, molecules, mapping and navigation with GPS, conduct physics experiments, work with 3-D computer-aided design software, and interact with civilian and military professionals. Since opening in April, STARBASE Wisconsin has worked with 146 students from seven schools. They will serve 1,500 students annually beginning this fall - a significant portion of the estimated 5,000 fifth-grade students in MPS. In addition, STARBASE Wisconsin's location puts the program in proximity to 17 elementary schools.

"We're a small program, but we have a huge mission," Sekyi said, "to motivate, inspire and nurture the intellectual capacity of our national treasure - our youth, Milwaukee's future innovators."

Areial Dubai, STARBASE Wisconsin office manager, said the program has made a positive impact on students.

"They love STARBASE - there's nothing boring about it," she said. "The teachers have said that kids who miss school never miss the day they have to go to STARBASE. They also get to school on time the day they have to go to STARBASE. The kids, to me, are little pieces of success."

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