NAVAL AIR STATION OCEANA — Amid displays of military technology and aerial prowess, the entire fifth grade from Virginia Beach schools visited the Oceana Air Show on Friday, Sept. 15, where students learned about science, technology, engineering and mathematics from military personnel, educators and even older students.
Some STEM lessons during the afternoon at Naval Air Station, the second of its kind and what is shaping up to be an annual event, were taught by high school students such as Daejah Majette, 17.
Majette is in the district’s Legal Studies Academy, but she helped students work on problem solving exercises, including protecting a green grape from a big mallet using only paper and toothpick.
“I want them to have an interest in critical thinking,” the teenager said. “Hands on activities can get kids more interested in math and science and critical thinking skills.”
U.S. Navy Capt. Rich Meadows, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Oceana, was executive officer of the base when the idea of using the air show to partner with students came about.
It happened over lunch, with Dr. Aaron Spence, superintendent of city schools, immediately open to the idea of bringing students to the show.
“We sat down one day at a local restaurant with Dr. Spence and a couple of his administrators and said, ‘Hey, what do you think? We have the largest STEM laboratory in the world at Oceana, and we’d really like to share that with the school district, but make it more personal.’”
Base leaders thought perhaps a couple of classes might participate, but the schools initially suggested the entire fifth and eighth grades.
Eventually, the event was limited to fifth graders, still a massive undertaking. But last year’s inaugural run was a success.
“Nobody had ever tried to bring that many students to an air show, but the kids were so interested in it and engaged and learning about how our nation’s military uses these concepts to do all kinds of interesting things,” Spence said during an interview at the base.
“It’s not always about the warfighting. It’s about the engineering and the problem solving and the teamwork and the camaraderie,” he said. “Our kids have an opportunity to see that and to see how what they’re learning in school applies to the world.”
Lt. Elise Chapdelaine, and engineer from Naval Facilities Engineering Command, worked shoulder to shoulder with young students, showing them models built with toothpick links between candy joints.
The idea was to show how things come together, a number of ideas that were applied in demonstrations as great as a maneuver by the Blue Angels and as small as, in the lieutenant’s words, “the gummy and toothpick level.”
“Exposing 5,000 fifth graders to STEM – how does that affect lives?” Meadows said, during an interview early in the day. That afternoon, one young student said this was influencing thoughts about the future.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Sydney Harwood, 10, of the Old Donation School. “You get to see the planes flying, and sometimes you get to see the inside and what it takes to make them.”
She said she likes building things and trying to make them work.
“I kind of want to become an engineer now,” the fifth grader said.
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