By Kim Walter -- email@example.com
Third through sixth grade students in Winchester, Frederick and Clarke counties now have a chance at hands-on experience and education in the science, technology, engineering and math thanks to the newly opened Winchester STARBASE Academy.
The program, one of only two in the state, is sponsored by the Virginia National Guard. Participating students will experience five days of STARBASE classes at the Winchester Armory, which will give them real-life scenarios involving the application of STEM curriculum.
Susan Corrigan, the program director, said the first day since opening went well. The program kicked off this week with students from Frederick Douglas Elementary School in Winchester. Throughout the school year, classes from surrounding counties will get their chance to participate. Corrigan said she also has booked spots for a few private schools.
"Thinking about what's possible, I can see this program growing so big," said Corrigan. Currently, STARBASE has four staff members, including two instructors who lead the activities.
Guest speakers are also a part of the program. Corrigan said they'll include professors from local colleges as well as members of the military.
The target audience for STARBASE is "at-risk students," or children from low-income families who attend Title 1 schools, Corrigan said.
"I really had to allocate the spots out," Corrigan said. "The facts are, at-risk students don't get the proper support that should go into the STEM subjects."
Some counties have only one or two Title 1 schools, she added. One-day programs are being made available as well, as the schedule is pretty much booked for the 2012-2013 school year.
Students will receive a certificate at the end of the week, and might qualify for certificates based on daily performance, Corrigan said. Experiments and projects take place each day, which help children to apply STEM education.
On Monday, participants had to design a safety harness for an egg, which then "crash landed on Mars." The devices were judged based on whether or not the egg "survived."
"It was fabulous. Kids were telling me how they were being engineers ... they knew what was going on," Corrigan said. Students also will take a tour of the facility and use top-of-the-line equipment, like a 3D printer, during the week.
"Statistics show that if kids aren't interested in STEM subjects by fifth grade, then they probably won't ever be," she said. "That's the main reason why the program is important for this age group. I want everyone to experience this ... it really is an every-student program."