March 15, 2005
BY SUSAN KANIA, SPECIAL TO THE COURANT
The clock was ticking
as Team Charlie from Hartford's McDonough Elementary School accepted
its assignment at STARBASE Connecticut Monday: In just 25 minutes,
while working with only one hand, they were to securely strap
an egg into a model space shuttle - and have the egg survive
a crash landing.
As his teammates counted "One, two, three, liftoff," Rafael
Velez, 11, launched their shuttle. They cheered when their egg,
cushioned with cotton, flew across the room on a wire and struck
a bowling ball called "Earth" without a scratch. Then
they joined a discussion with students from the competing teams
about the science behind the "Eggbert" experiment.
This is the fourth year that fifth-graders from Hartford public
schools have participated in STARBASE (Science and Technology
Academics Reinforcing Basic Aviation and Space Exploration) Connecticut,
a hands-on science, math and technology program sponsored by
the Connecticut National Guard in cooperation with the Hartford
Board of Education.
"We challenge the kids to get interested in science," said
Bob Gillanders, a retired command chief from the Connecticut
Air National Guard, who directs the program.
A second STARBASE program opened in 2003 at Naugatuck Community
College for students from Waterbury, and there are also programs
in 42 other states. Funding for the program comes from the U.S.
Department of Defense, except for transportation costs that are
paid by the school system.
In classrooms next to the hangar at Brainard Airport in Hartford,
with a view of the nearby planes and helicopters and teachers
dressed in flight suits, nearly 1,000 students from 29 Hartford
schools will participate this year. They will study such topics
as friction, inertia, flight, space exploration and Newton's
Laws of Motion, through experiments and activities that always
Students wear buttons with
their "call names" such
as Strawberry for Jershirka Morales, 11, or Baby Blue for Kimberly
Buxo, 10. They choose team names such as Delta, Bravo, Echo,
Foxtrot, Alpha and Charlie, and they are assigned jobs such as
pilot, communications specialist or supply specialist, which
all add to their enthusiasm for the program.
"This is an awesome experience where the kids get out of
the classroom for hands-on science that we often can't do at
school," said McDonough teacher Candice Steele. "The
kids tell the next year's class about it, so they look forward
Jessenia Santiago, 10, said, "Other kids should have a
chance to come to STARBASE because we learn a lot about space,
movement, rockets and airplanes." She said she's now considering
becoming a STARBASE worker, a pilot or astronaut.
Naomi Reid, 10, said they learned a lot of science vocabulary
words during the program.
"We learn that we have to communicate with each other when
we work as a team," she said.
One of the most popular projects each session is building model
rockets, which the students launch in Colt Park.
"The teachers showed us how to build our rockets step-by-step," said
Rafael. "If we don't assemble it correctly, it could catch
on fire, or the parachute won't open and your rocket will crash."
Students learn the parts of an airplane and how to read flight
instruments by using a computer flight simulator program. They
also practice flying, taking off and landing helicopters and
planes such as a small Cessna stunt plane, or Boeing or Lear
jets on the computer.
Jody Becker, the school-to-career
coordinator for the Hartford Public Schools, praised the program
as "a great way to integrate
the classroom learning of math, science and technology and apply
it to careers and future opportunities."
Ted Jones, a school district employee who has been involved
in the STARBASE program, said the only negative aspect of the
program is a lack of space, so it can't be offered to all fifth-graders
"We have had feedback from teachers that this is the best
program offered by the school system in years," Jones said. "We
look forward to its expansion to serve all city fifth-graders."
For information about STARBASE Connecticut summer programs,
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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