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STARBASE Inspires City Fifth-Graders

Program Explores Science, Math, Technology

March 15, 2005

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 stress teamwork.

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 to coming."

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 each year.

"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, call 860-728-0090.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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