Camp Blanding, Fla. --
Noise fills the room, spilling out the doors and down the hall. Chatter, laughter, and even an occasional squeal can be heard. The smiles of both students and teachers depict a happy crowd overall.
For the first time ever, STARBASE summer camp was available at Camp Blanding, Florida, for the Army National Guard. This Science, Technology, and Reinforcing Basic Aviation Space Exploration program has been a summer staple for military dependents at the 125th Fighter Wing in Jacksonville for several years. Having it in a different location opens doors to more children, in other military branches.
“This is huge,” said Mark Frank, lead instructor for STARBASE, as well as lead instructor and coordinator for STARBASE 2.0 mentoring. “I’ve been trying for three years actively to get permission to come down here and do a program on Camp Blanding.”
A clean, modern facility goes a long way in the education field.
“The nicety of having the 202nd and the availability of their classrooms and facilities to actually host the class was just a God-send,” said Frank. “They have the tables, the chairs, the space to set up one room with laptops, and another room to do experiments in, without having to break things down and put things up … huge accommodations for us. Having it here has just been fantastic.”
Parents are equally thrilled about this opportunity. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nicholas Valenti, post safety officer for Camp Blanding, had two of his kids in this class.
“A lot of the science they were involved in, and the things they were going over, really brought some new attention to both of them about their futures and what they want to do,” said Valenti. “I come from a science background myself. It was really interesting seeing the experiments the STARBASE instructors performed, and then getting the kids involved with those demonstrations.”
Not only were the experiments thought provoking, but apparently the timing was spot-on as well.
“The folks that brought their kids to this are just absolutely crazy about it,” said Frank. “They think it’s the best thing ever because it’s end of summer, it gets their kids started back in the mentality of school, studying, and having to get up in the morning.”
Frank elaborated. Most of the parents said how on the first day they had to fight ‘em to get out of bed. Now, the kids are up before they are, begging them to hurry up and get going. They were that excited to come back in for day three.
Valenti can attest to that.
“Picking them up at the end of the day, they didn’t want to leave,” said Valenti. “They had a lot of fun, every day was exciting, and the entire ride back to either my office or home was all about what they did that day. It was great seeing them like that, they were really excited. It was excitement about learning; I don’t know if they realize they were learning as much as they did.”
Enthusiastic students are proof of success for all involved in setting this venture up.
“That means we’ve done the right thing, we’ve gotten their attention,” said Frank. “They’re excited about the science, math, and technology with the laptops. Today we introduced flight simulators, tomorrow they’ll see the rocket launches. We want it to be fun and exciting, and build upon itself each day.”
Valenti is aware of the summer camps held previously at the 125 FW, and appreciates having it here finally.
“I'd like to thank STARBASE for coming out here and doing it for everybody,” said Valenti. “I think it was really good to have it on the Army post, and noticed there were a lot of Army kids. It was nice to have Army personnel out here getting the opportunity to join something like that."
A goal of STARBASE is to make known to any child, from any background, that anything is possible through learning new things.
“Our ability, our practice is, we want those kids to come in, get excited, and fall in love with science and math,” said Frank. “And realize there is a lot more to science and math than just sitting in a class and reading a book, or having someone talk to them. They can formulate their own ideas on how to make experiments happen.”
STARBASE instructors put forth great effort to make learning fun for their students, and they get a lot out of it too. There is no denying how much this position means to them.
“It’s the greatest program I’ve ever been with,” said Frank. “I truly love every minute of every day with these kids.”