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Kingsley STARBASE adapts to COVID

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

The STARBASE classroom at Kingsley Field has sat empty for months, just like many other classrooms across the country. 

“When COVID hit last year, we temporarily changed up our playbook for delivering STEM education to our local fifth graders,” said Alesha Earnest, the Deputy Director of STARBASE Kingsley.  “We too were forced to pause in hosting classes every day at our STARBASE Kingsley Schoolhouse.”

Earnest said it was a challenge, but her team of educators came together to find a way to continue bringing STEM education to the local community.  The team used virtual platforms to deliver remote lessons and even traveled to local schools to offer hands-on programs. 

“We set up many temporary, outdoor classrooms at local elementary schools, where our staff taught fifth graders the most popular of Newton’s 3 Laws using straw rocket design and launching stations. We also created student robotics-programming challenges, and allowed the students to investigate fluid behavior with Alka-Seltzer rocket launchers,” said Earnest.

In March, though, the STARBASE team was finally able to welcome students back in to their classroom!

“When students were permitted to return to our classroom, honestly, we were elated,” said Earnest.  “We love what we did prior to COVID, so we were more than ready to get back in, with a room full of eager, bright-eyed inquisitive kids.”

The team made many adaptations to their operations in order to follow Centers for Disease Control, Oregon Health Authority, and Oregon Military Department guidelines, including reducing the number of students served at one time, allowing for social distancing, requiring face coverings, eliminating non-essential visitors, and increasing sanitization.  “We’ve gone through bottles and bottles of 70% Isopropyl Alcohol,” said Earnest with a laugh.

The Department of Defense STARBASE mission is to motivate and inspire students to explore science, technology, engineering and math educational opportunities, while empowering them to set and reach for personal goals, in a team environment.  The STARBASE Kingsley program is offered to Klamath County fifth graders and is an opportunity for them to experience hands-on learning with science equipment and technology.

“The greatest thanks we receive is when our visiting students tell us we taught them about career fields they didn’t know existed, and that after what they’ve learned with us, they feel confident in pursuing their new dream,” said Earnest.  “Last week one of our female students told us that she had never thought about what it was like to be an astronaut, but now she wants to be one.  It is our pleasure to have a role in creating confident learners… the most valuable asset we could have.”