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Puerto Rico ANG Starbase program opens kids to STEM education

CAROLINA, Puerto Rico -- For almost two decades, the initial dream to create a program that would fulfill the technological educational needs of children, has evolved into a hands-on teaching environment, which today is known as the Starbase Program.

Since the Puerto Rico National Guard youth program launched in 1994, it has graduated 24,123 students.

Starbase Puerto Rico, based out of Muñiz Air National Guard Base, has a unique curriculum as opposed to other similar programs in the nation. The program has age-appropriate curriculums geared toward students in fourth through sixth grades, and seventh through ninth grades. The lessons are composed of 25 hours of hands-on activities focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math.

"The Starbase goal and concept is to expose these young children to advanced technologies by making them learn in a fun way," said Starbase Program Instructor Mercedes Salichs. "The student is kept interested long enough to understand STEM, and later on the student is able to analyze how the world really works."

Students learn about the concepts of Atmospheric Science, Laws of Motion, Engineering Design Processes, Navigation and Mapping. They explore and observe equipment and see how STEM applications are used in aircraft and fire truck instrumentation.

After they have studied theory in class, students are brought out to the base where Airmen show them the practical applications of their class work. They may see the chemical principles involved in extinguishing a fire, or see how Newton's Laws affect an aircraft. Along the way, with conversation and interaction, Airmen act as mentors and role models for the children.

"The experience of sitting in a cockpit or putting on a fireman's suit is exciting, but at the same time it lets them see how science and math is applied everywhere," she said.

The program also gives students a chance to tour and explore the many different jobs Airmen perform across different units on the base.

"Being there and able to touch [equipment] and ask questions, inspires the children to want to do those jobs," said Salichs. "They come here with other thoughts of what they would like to be when they grow up, and the program here opens their minds to a different kind of thinking."

In a constant changing world of advanced sciences and technologies, the Starbase Program helps to awaken the ideas of young children by exposing them, and educating them to develop the basic skills necessary to become the scientists, engineers and mathematicians of tomorrow.