NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. –
In 2002, Executive Director Bill Hayden, the founder of Science and Technology Academies Reinforcing Basic Aviation and Space Exploration (STARBASE) Victory at Victory Elementary School in Portsmouth, VA coordinated with Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s (NNSY) then Shipyard Commander Capt. Mark Hugel to help jump start the nonprofit school program to life. A dozen NNSY Sailors were engaged to STARBASE’s first facility to clean up, paint and assemble desks and chairs. This program would go on to provide further Science, Technology, Environment, and Math (STEM) education to the potential future employees of America’s Shipyard. Thus when COVID-19 struck this year and forced students to attend school from home, NNSY came to help STARBASE teachers make project packages so Portsmouth students could better continue their education.
“We conduct the class from here in the school, but we have to mail them the packages first so the kids can do it at home,” said Hayden. “Most of the items in the kits are probably in their home, but the children may not know where they are, and the parents may or may not be there to help.” After they get the packages, the students follow their teachers via video conference. “We have the children follow along through an application called Schoology, which is a learning management system—something I didn’t even know how to say three weeks ago,” STARBASE teacher Bill Lee chuckled. “The first virtual classroom I ever saw was the first one that I taught.”
With virtual lessons to prepare, packages to put together and adapting to this new learning landscape, the teachers could use any extra help. Thus, in coordination with NNSY’s Outreach Coordinator Valerie Fulwood and Command Community Relations Coordinator Culinary Specialist First Class Petty Officer Matthew Yacobellis, an email went out to NNSY’s Sailors asking for volunteers to help put together lesson packages—and a number of them responded. “They took care of the lion’s share of the work in putting these packages together during the couple of hours they have spent with us,” said STARBASE Volunteer Board Member and retired NNSY employee Robert Fogel. “We really appreciate the response from the shipyard to come out and be a part of this.”
Along with their duties at the shipyard, many of the Sailors were more than happy to help as they wanted to give back to the community. “I love children so whenever there’s an opportunity to give back to them, I am always willing to volunteer and help out,” said volunteer Second Class Petty Officer Khadijah Sam.
“I was helped a lot when I was in school at that age, and I felt it was important to turn around and help other school age kids now that I am an adult,” added volunteer Third Class Petty Officer Sarah Wise. “I think more people should volunteer. It’s easy because the school is right down the street from NNSY, and there are some commands that will give time off for Sailors to volunteer. It’s run by an admiral, and the school has a military structure, so it’s familiar territory.”
Fogel said that the process of planning this outreach would not have been possible without Fulwood and Yacobellis. “Valerie was the one who got us in touch with Petty Officer Yacobellis and has been our touchpoint between the shipyard and STARBASE,” said Fogel. “It’s going to make the rest of the year easier for the teachers and take a lot of the stress off of them.”
Not only will the Sailors’ volunteered efforts help the teachers, but Hayden says that it will ultimately help NNSY in the long run by ensuring the continuation of the STARBASE students’ education and the option to apply to the shipyard—regardless of what the future brings. “To me, we are the starting point of technicians and engineers of NNSY,” Hayden explained. “There are jobs in the shipyard that will one day need to be filled—and we’re working on it.”