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JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, D.C. Fifth grade students from Washington, D.C.’s Benjamin Orr Elementary School visited Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling recently as part of the ever-popular Starbase program. The initiative was created in 2002 by the Department of Defense (DoD) to help motivate young students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The program engages students with hands-on activities, such as building and launching their very own rockets. They also explore nanotechnology, navigation and mapping techniques, in addition to designing space stations, all-terrain vehicles and submersibles with adult volunteers from various STEM-related fields. While math is an important aspect of the program’s curriculum, students also learn the importance of teamwork while working on their projects.

Shelley Bard, Starbase program director, said classes are held once a week for five weeks at the Starbase Academy at the Washington Navy Yard. She said the program targets students who live in inner cities or rural locations, those who are economically disadvantaged, low in academic performance or have a disability.

“Most schools don’t get an opportunity like this. It’s at no cost for at rick schoolchildren,” Bard said. “A program like this helps plant the seeds for a greater ambition in life. It teaches science and math in a whole new light.”

Dajah McCants, one of the fifth grade students from Orr Elementary that participated in the program, joined his classmates at a soccer field near JBAB’s Firth Sterling Gate the site of the group’s rocket launch. He said it took him a half hour to make his rocket and that he was eager to see how high it would go.

“It’s a really fun program. I made some new friends and got to watch a lot of interesting science programs as part of the class,” McCants said. “I definitely would recommend it to other students my age. If you like science and math, this is definitely the class for you.”

Kate Terwilliger, of the Naval Sea System Command (NAVSEA) at the Washington Navy Yard, was one of several adult volunteers that worked with students from Orr Elementary. She said the experience of sharing her interests with young students was personally rewarding.

“I’ve done math and science tutoring in the past, but this was especially fun because of the hands-on project we got to do together,” Terwilliger said. “It’s a blast to see kids get so excited about science and math. It’s definitely a change of pace from the classroom material they normally see and hear.”

Montrell Smith, also of NAVSEA, is volunteer coordinator for the organization’s partnership with the Starbase program. He said the entire experience is highly educational and fun for students.

“We certainly see the importance of STEM and its benefit for students. For us, it’s an opportunity for real engineers, architects and scientists to take time out of their day and train up the next generation of engineers and workers in this field,” Smith said. “I think there’s a lot of value in providing a professional face to this program. Anything we can do to help, Starbase can count on us.”

While NAVSEA has participated in numerous STEM-related projects in the past, Smith said this is the first year it has partnered with Starbase. He said many more NAVSEA employees have hinted at participating for projects come spring.

For more information on the Starbase program, visit www.dodstarbase.org.