A successful first year for the Idaho National Guard STARBASE program


Story by Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur

GOWEN FIELD, Idaho – As summer approaches, the Idaho National Guard’s STARBASE Idaho program completed its first school year with a successful outcome of more than 1,700 fifth grade students who participated throughout the year in the well-known science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum, also referred to as STEM.

The five-week STARBASE Idaho program is funded by the Department of Defense and brings a nontraditional way of teaching students from around the Treasure Valley.

“This program is definitely designed differently than a traditional classroom setting, in that students are more actively engaged in the experiments through a more hands-on approach,” said Amy Cook, a current instructional aide at the STARBASE Idaho program.

Not all schools have the funding available to accommodate the growing and ever-changing technological side of the curriculum. This year, 23 Title I schools that were lacking sufficient STEM resources were able to participate in this program. Title I schools are government funded public schools that receive supplemental funds to assist with meeting students’ educational goals.

“As a teacher, I am finding success in students that maybe weren’t as successful in a traditional classroom because they can be more physically engaged here,” said Courtney Taylor, a current teacher at the STARBASE Idaho program. “It is reinforcing to know this program does work because not all students learn the same way. Not all students have access to the programs that explore this type of knowledge and provide these types of hands-on lessons.”

The past 12 months’ curriculum taught valuable skills and lessons to several elementary schools from six different school districts. The school districts of Boise, Caldwell, Kuna, Middleton, Nampa and West Ada bussed students onto Gowen Field to participate in the program, with the addition of several homeschooled students.

Students learned by being physically involved in the engineering and design process of 3D printing on computers. They wrote coding programs for robotics that incorporated the ability to overcome failure if their coding didn’t program the robot to follow the correct path. They mixed chemicals to cause reactions, learned about physical and chemical properties, states of matter, elements and atoms, nanotechnology, laws of motion, units of measurements, fractions, decimals, percentages, and much more.

“My favorite part of the program is that the students get the chance to learn through failure,” said Kimberly Avella, a current teacher at the STARBASE Idaho program. “If you don’t get it right the first time, you get the valuable lesson of trial and error through the failure process of these experiments.”

Additionally, the STARBASE Idaho program allowed for guided tours of Gowen Field and an opportunity to meet with Airman and Soldier STEM role models from aircraft maintainers, civil engineers, firefighters, armor instructors, army aviators and emergency and environmental managers.

Currently, 35 other states have STARBASE programs, which are federally funded and typically located on military instillations.

“We are also a nonprofit organization,” said Jim Heuring, director of STARBASE Idaho. “We can receive private donations and we do. We use some of that money we are receiving from private donors to pay for bussing for the schools that cannot afford to provide transportation. We also use the money for the extra supplies we may need.”

Congress votes on the Department of Defense bill for the program annually. Once the bill is approved, a cooperative agreement within each state pays for the facilities, equipment and supplies, as well as the staff and the teachers who are all State of Idaho Military Division employees.

“It is humbling to be a part of something that sparks their interests, to be able to see the students realize that there are so many different options available to them,” said Taylor. “From the beginning to the end, they seemed more and more eager to learn each day as the five weeks continued on. In such a short amount of time, it was just remarkable to watch them grow and to leave the program believing in themselves.”