Program stresses STEM education

FORT DRUM — Fort Drum recently received U.S. Department of Defense approval to locate a STARBASE Academy on post for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — or STEM — education.

DoD STARBASE is a premier educational program sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, aimed at challenging students with “hands-on, minds-on” STEM activities, while also exploring diverse and critical career fields.

More than 70 military installations across the U.S. support the DoD STARBASE program, with more than 90,000 students participating annually. Fort Drum is the first installation in New York state to host DoD STARBASE.

“I am always ecstatic about any opportunity I can showcase Fort Drum in any way, and this just becomes another way to demonstrate the partnership between our local educators and the installation, as well as our school kids,” said Col. Jeffery P. Lucas, Fort Drum garrison commander.

Fourteen local school districts have committed to participating in the STARBASE Academy at Fort Drum so far, and the program was endorsed by Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division leaders, district superintendents and New York state elected officials during the application process. The installation was eligible to apply for DoD STARBASE because the north country meets the mandate to support students in Title 1 schools.

The initiative focuses on fifth-grade education, with peer-reviewed curriculum designed to improve STEM knowledge, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The program engages students through the inquiry-based curriculum with experiential activities. It can also serve as an outreach program to increase STEM education awareness within the Northern New York school districts.

“I don’t know if I can overstate the importance of STEM,” Col. Lucas said. “There is almost no occupational field that we have in the military that does not interact daily with ever increasing roles and requirements for technology. ... I think just in society as a whole I think STEM education is significant.”

Each academy chooses a customized curriculum from a large offering of peer-reviewed learning opportunities in each STEM area, such as robotics and engineering. Math is embedded throughout the curriculum and students use metric measurement, estimation, calculation geometry and data analysis to solve questions. Teamwork is stressed as they work together to explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate concepts.

DoD STARBASE was developed in 1991 and has been DoD-funded since 1993. In Fiscal Year 2019, participating students’ performance in physics, chemistry and mathematics improved by 36%, 32% and 19%, respectively.

Fort Drum will host a minimum of 60 classes with 30 students in each one of those classes. The program will provide 25 hours of STEM instruction per year, over and above what is already in the curriculum at many local school districts. Schedules will be tailored between the STARBASE Academy and school districts, with bussing to and from the academy furnished by the schools.

“I think this is going to be a great opportunity for fifth grade students in this area,” said Stephen J. Todd, district superintendent of Jefferson-Lewis BOCES. “We’re just really grateful to Fort Drum for thinking of us and including our kids in this opportunity. ... The majority of the school districts in the region, most of the schools in the area said they were very interested in exploring this and in giving their fifth graders an opportunity to participate in it.”

Mr. Todd continued by saying he thinks this new development illustrates the unique partnership between area schools and military partners as one of the few places in the United States and in the world where there is not a military school on post, where the area schools and military installation partner.

While the intent is to primarily serve disadvantaged, underserved students within the school districts, the STARBASE program also will be available to parochial school students and to homeschool families, so every fifth-grade student will have the opportunity to participate in this curriculum.

“All of our districts look for every opportunity they can to provide hands on learning, real life applications of learning to their kids, and this is a classic example of how kids will not only be learning in the abstract, they’ll be seeing how all of those things are applied in real life,” Mr. Todd said. “Specifically in this case, in the military context, highly skilled military professionals will be working with kids and showing them how these theoretical concepts they’re learning about in their fifth grade science, what it really looks like in application.”

The Academy, located in Building 1029 on Lewis Avenue, will undergo more than $1 million in renovations, partially through DoD funding. The building has two dedicated classrooms, with potential for a third. It is ideally located near 10th Mountain Division training and simulations facilities, as well as other sites that could offer educational, historical and military experiences for students.

“I’m really excited, especially given all the uncertainty over the last two academic school years, that coming into the next one we have something here in the local community from Fort Drum that we can absolutely offer a tangible beneficial change in the upcoming school year,” Col. Lucas said.

The STARBASE Academy is expected to open in spring 2022. To learn more about STARBASE, visit www.dodstarbase.org.

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