Rachael Fine (center), Marymount University student, reacts with Shyla Goff (left), 9, and Tamara Alden (right), 5, as their balloons fill with air when baking soda and vinegar mix in the attached water bottles during the Fort Belvoir Elementary Scho... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Belvoir Elementary School just received a three-year, $1.6 million grant through Operation Patriotic STEM -- which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- from the Department of Defense Education Authority.

Educators, parents, students and community partners celebrated the grant during the annual STEM event at the school Saturday morning with remarks from community officials and hands-on STEM activities.

"It's so exciting," said Kara Fahy, STEM resource teacher at Fort Belvoir Elementary School. "We'll be able to continue hands-on STEM programming. It's really great critical thinking and creative thinking and real-world math application."

The STEM grant is based on the percentage of military students at FBES, and will continue to fund the STEM in-school, after-school and summer programming. It will also fund additional outside classrooms, a math lab and math resource teacher, field trips and a school "STEM Institute," where teachers can develop lessons for others to share, Fahy said.

Lt. Col. Brian Zarchin, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Belvoir Headquarters Battalion commander, attended the event and thanked the educators, parents and children for their hard work, participation and support.

"This program is the best in the state. You have a lot to be proud of," he said.

More than 400 Families attended the annual event, including some from surrounding elementary schools. The children's activities included building and launching paper rockets, building bristlebots, operating an underwater robot, and discovering what happens when vinegar and baking soda mix.

The exhibits were provided by the school's STEM partners, including Marymount University, West Potomac High School, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Fairfax County Public Schools staff, Fairfax County Department of Water, Lands and Waters, and the Naval Center for Space Technology.

At a Lands and Waters vermicomposting exhibit, children learned how live worms can help convert organic waste into fertilizer -- a lesson that wasn't lost on seven-year-old Holly Smithey.

"Worms are not gross; they're very nice," said Smithey, who helped put worms in a bed of newspaper and offered them fruit and vegetable peelings.

"I fed them," she said. "I was being nice to them. I put them in my hand and I got the dirt off of them."

Ethan Smith, 11, learned about aerodynamics when he designed a paper rocket with Marymount University students and launched it using plastic tubing and an empty water bottle.

"I had two fins at the beginning when it launched, and it didn't go that far. Then I added an extra fin to make it go straighter and it shot across the whole place. It's really fun to build the rockets," he said.

Families also met an astronomy professor from Marymount University and interacted with "Albert Einstein" during an "Einstein Alive" show on relativity.

This is the second 3-year STEM grant DoDEA has given to Belvoir Elementary School.

The FBES STEM program has been recognized nationally, is set to be recognized internationally, and is a model for other schools in the county, according to Deborah Tyler, Fairfax County Public Schools assistant superintendent for Cluster IV.

"This is one of my most favorite places to come and visit because of the incredible things that are going on. Teachers from across the county are coming to learn what is going on in this school and see how we can spread it throughout the district," she said.

The FBES STEM team includes Fahy, Nancy Rowland, FBES STEM grant coordinator; and Betsy Stickel, assistant STEM coordinator.

For more information about the STEM program, visit