SDN Blog

STARBASE program gives kids an educational boost

Posted on Monday, March 09, 2015 in Community

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Starbase - South Dakota

Fifth-graders who participate in the STARBASE educational program learn about Newton’s laws of motion and other scientific principles in exciting ways.

Four-member teams of students crash a miniature shuttle into a moonscape on a wall, for example. The objective is for a raw egg aboard the shuttle to survive, unbroken. So, students have to make sure the speeding egg is properly cushioned for an abrupt stop.

Typically, four of every six teams successfully complete the mission in the first attempt, says Vonny Revell, executive director of STARBASE of South Dakota. It’s an exercise that teaches teambuilding and makes learning science more fun, Revell says.

'They learn from different, hands-on experiences that they don’t get in their classrooms.' - Vonny Revell

“They learn from different, hands-on experiences that they don’t get in their classrooms,” she says.

STARBASE is a federal program that serves about 3,200 students in South Dakota a year at facilities in Sioux Falls, Rapid City and with two mobile units.The goal is to motivate elementary students to explore fields such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – so-called STEM coursework - as they continue their educations.

The program focuses primarily on helping schools with high levels of socially or economically disadvantaged students. It’s an educational program carried out through the U.S. Department of Defense, which provides roughly $1 million per year for operations in South Dakota.

Students spend 25 hours – one day a week for five weeks - in a STARBASE classroom.

  • Students from 13 elementary schools in Sioux Falls spend three sessions at the Army National Guard base and two sessions at the Air National Guard base.
  • Students in Rapid City attend sessions in similar facilities in their community. Two mobile units travel to reservation communities and other towns in South Dakota. The mobile fleet is comprised of a mobile home that serves as a classroom and trailer filled with equipment that is and hauled from school to school.

STARBASE is among the civic-minded programs in South Dakota that benefits from financial and volunteer contributions from Sioux Falls-based SDN Communications, a premier regional provider of broadband connectivity and other communications services to businesses, schools and other institutions.

Vernon Brown, vice president of marketing and community relations at SDN, recently finished a two and a half year stint on the board of STARBASE of South Dakota. He served the past year as chairman.

Nikki Gronli, a marketing specialist with SDN, has joined the board. So SDN will continue to have a seat on the panel of 11 people.

Brown says he loved serving on the board and seeing children get excited about learning. His daughter has been among the participants in STARBASE, which Brown describes as a long-term, work-development initiative.

Revell says Brown was a “fabulous” member who will be missed. He helped move the board into its new era of responsibility, she says.

The board’s role is transitioning from overseeing operations to raising supplemental funding. Management oversight of the program has shifted to the Black Hills Special Services Cooperative in Sturgis. The foundation now focuses on raising money for equipment not covered by federal funds, for example, as well as for graduation medallions and snacks for students.

Revell appreciates the support that SDN and other companies have given and continue to provide the program. But she gets a little frustrated sometimes, she says, because while STARBASE is a great program that has been active in Sioux Falls for 20 years, many people are not aware of it.

“I’m speechless sometimes,” she says. “Why is this such a big secret?”

The kids who benefit from the program aren’t speechless, however.

“It’s a big deal to go to STARBASE,” Brown says. “It’s a big deal for fifth-graders.”


The DoD website has videos of some of the concepts students learn at STARBASE. Take a look at "Why ketchup is so hard to pour."