Helping a program like STARBASE achieve its mission and providing quality STEM education during a pandemic is no easy task! We are fortunate to have an educator with extensive experience in Portsmouth Public Schools and a long list of competencies. Meet Rich Neefe.
Rich began teaching 6 th grade science at William E. Waters Middle School in the Fall of 2000. Five years later, he became a STARBASE instructor and was elevated to team leader for the staff in 2007. As in many organizations, starting out “in the trenches” allowed a smooth transition to leadership. While still instructing students, Rich worked to improve and align the STARBASE curriculum to better match the needs of students and the requirements of Virginia’s Standards of Learning. As STARBASE matured, Rich’s role in the school system also grew. He became
a Science Specialist, working with teachers in the elementary schools. He also
became the STARBASE program coordinator and curriculum manager, working
with the staff to provide a rich and active experience for the students.
The STARBASE program, located in Victory Elementary School, eventually expanded to include all
students in the 4 th , 5 th , and 6 th grades. Rich worked tirelessly with all elementary school administrators
and teachers to create the annual class calendar, managed the purchases of materials and supplies, and
most importantly, continued to update a dynamic curriculum.
When asked what has been most challenging about virtual instruction caused by the pandemic, Rich
explained “Our initial challenges were to just get the program off the ground. We had to develop online
instruction modules using simple projects that could be done at home safely. Then we had to overcome
problems associated with material orders, mailing project kits to students, and ramping up the system
to serve 3300 students. After preparing the materials for distribution, our bigger challenge was to
ensure every student received their materials. Many families live in apartment buildings, so students
often had difficulty receiving packages. Occasionally, we had to drop off replacement packages directly
to homes or meet a family member at their home school.”
Though the logistics of a virtual program have been challenging, Rich sees several new opportunities for
STARBASE. All Portsmouth students now have their own Chromebook to do their schoolwork. “This was
probably the most important improvement in our school system,” says Rich. “It created a completely
new way to interact with our students. It will be exciting to work with them when we are back to face-
to-face classes and are able to take advantage of these personal CHROME books.”
The virtual STARBASE program is called Project SCOUT (STARBASE Connections & Outreach Using
Technology). It should develop broader interest in STEM education by engaging students, their parents,
and perhaps even their siblings. We wanted STARBASE to be a “family affair” this year. To determine the
efficacy of Project SCOUT, we hired an evaluation team to tell us what worked (and what did not).
Students and parents have regularly requested more STARBASE events. We hope these home projects
will be an experience that every child (and every family) will find interesting and educational. The
modules that work will probably be used in future years…once life returns to the “new normal”. Project
SCOUT is an exciting, new way to provide additional math and science lessons to those students who are
inspired by their in-person STARBASE experience.