LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
For more than 13 years, the 433rd Airlift Wing at the Kelly Annex has sponsored Starbase Kelly, a hands-on educational program for San Antonio elementary school students. Starbase Kelly is part of DoD Starbase, a national initiative funded by the Department of Defense to interest school children in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. The Starbase activities are held at military installations throughout the United States, with more than 60 individual programs nationwide.
"The Department [of Defense] has taken a position that it's very important to expose kids to STEM to increase their interest in these subject areas," said Director of Youth Programs for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Ernest Gonzalez. "It's the only place where DoD is approaching this at an elementary level."
Mr. Jackson explained that the Starbase Kelly curriculum uses hands-on learning to help children better understand science and math concepts. Some of this teaching involves the aircraft at the Kelly Annex.
"We expose the kids to technology, science and math. To do that we use the airplanes here," he said. "We go out and visit the C-5 and talk about Bernoulli's Principle."
Children participate in a variety of activities at Starbase Kelly, including science experiments, aircraft tours, flight simulator activities and model rocket launches.
According to Senior Master Sgt. Juan Villarreal, 433rd AW, the participating children's response to these events is highly positive.
"They get out of here very excited about what they learned. Hopefully we're sparking an interest in STEM; science, technology, engineering and math," he said.
Sergeant Villarreal explained that teachers associated with the Starbase program are selected for their background in science and math.
"We look for someone who can explain the concepts and sciences involved with aviation," he said.
During the school year, children participating in the Starbase Kelly activities normally come from five independent school districts surrounding Lackland. According to Sergeant Villarreal, students from Edgewood ISD, South San Antonio ISD, San Antonio ISD and Southwest ISD usually comprise the majority of students in the program. The districts select schools for the program and children come to Starbase Kelly for five days.
Attendees during the summer the children of parents affiliated with Lackland.
"In the summer, we do this kind of to pay back the base for letting us operate here," said Mr. Jackson.
According to Mr. Gonzalez, the success of individual sites such as Starbase Kelly has allowed the overall program to expand.
"Success sort of breeds success," he said, adding that the recent Starbase expansion Naval Air Station Corpus Christi was inspired by the success of Starbase Kelly.
He also stressed the importance of Starbase Kelly in strengthening relations between the community and the military.
"It exposes our personnel and commands to populations that might not have been exposed to the military," he said. "It's a great initiative for the command."