STARBASE Teaches Kids They Can Reach the Stars
Thank goodness for the homeschool community in Brevard County. Specifically the Facebook groups where parents of homeschoolers share opportunities and information. That’s how I learned about STARBASE Patrick, a Department of Defense sponsored STEM program that sparked something in my kid I’ll be eternally grateful for.
Homeschooling was not my first choice for Ella, who is now in fourth grade. We started in first grade because she is a successful young actor whose work allows us wonderful travel adventures. We needed the flexibility because the public school system could not accommodate our lifestyle.
But it’s turned out to be a wonderful blessing. Any feelings like I cannot adequately do what the schools do have vanished. I’ve connected with other homeschool families and we do things together. And this community has many “homeschool days” at local places of interest.
I jumped at the chance to sign Ella up for STARBASE, a 5-week session of immersive, hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering and math. Programming robots, computer-aided design (CAD), testing bottle rockets, building self-propelled rovers and Rube-Goldberg machines were just some of the activities.
The kids partnered up, so they also had to learn to work together. Brainstorm, compromise, budget, design, test, redesign. As one of two parents chaperoning the group of about 50, it was beautiful to see the wheels turning — both on the models they were building and inside their heads.
STARBASE Patrick opened in 2020, but the program was launched in 1993. Florida has four STARBASEs, with 84 now across the country, including one in Guam and one in Puerto Rico. The mission was to target fifth-graders at Title 1 schools. The theory: expose low-income disadvantaged students to STEM, and you open their world to opportunities they otherwise might not have.
“We do focus on the 20th Century mindset,” said STARBASE Director Carol Sluzky. “Collaboration, communication, ethical decision making, innovation, being technologically fluent and problem solving.”
Sluzky was a middle and high school chemistry and biology teacher for 20 years. She opened her own school in Costa Rica for 10 years, where she said resources were limited, so she had to get innovative and creative in how to teach hands-on. That experience serves her well at STARBASE, where the kids get on the floor and build, go outside and shoot off rockets, and each has their own computer on which to engage.
“The kids who really excel in this program are kids who struggle in a traditional program,” Sluzky said. “You leave it up to the kid. We’re not focusing on assessment, not held accountable for testing, but on interest and how to spark that interest.”
So while STARBASE welcomes fifth-grade classes from Title 1 schools to bus in from around Brevard and Osceola counties, it also opened the program to homeschoolers — and wow, are we grateful for that. Plans also include expanding with a 2.0 version that would have educators going to local middle schools, as early as 2023.
Lessons are always being revamped so the learning experiences stay fresh. Coming next will be virtual reality flight simulations. There’s never a cost to participate.
As chaperone, I witnessed kids get so excited and focus on the tasks at hand. Learning styles vary, but each will grow from exposure to the 50 hours of STEM, courtesy of the DoD. And in what better location is there to gets hand-on with STEM?
“We are the only STARBASE out of all 84 that have rockets that fly right over our building, how can you beat that,” Sluzky said. “Where else can you learn about rockets then walk outside and watch them launch right overhead?
“I’m teaching a STEM academy in an environment where it’s all around the kids. You can’t blink your eyes without seeing STEM implemented in some way.”
My daughter insisted we purchase the Sphero Spark robot she programmed during her first class, so she could continue at home what she was exposed to at STARBASE. Seeing her so excited about STEM brought me to tears. It’s what every parent could hope for, especially living on the Space Coast.
Mission accomplished. Or rather, I should say mission exceeded.
(Website coming soon)
EverythingBrevard Managing Editor and proud word nerd Lee Nessel is an award-winning journalist. She thinks best through her fingertips and started churning out iambic pentameter as a kid. She embraces last-minute cross-country travel thanks to her daughter, Ella Grace Helton’s, child acting adventures. Lee loves the barbell, keto cooking and this year became a ballroom dance mom.