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About 1,200 Central Georgia students attend Starbase education programs at the Museum of Aviation each year.

It's a free science and technology related course, offered primarily to low income, or Title I schools.

According to the Starbase director at the Museum, Wesley Fondal, the opportunity could disappear next year.

He says Starbase could become the next victim of the budget ax.

Starbase instructor Dawn Pannell witnesses what she calls the "ah factor" almost daily. She said, "When I see a child learn something for the first time, they're just so surprised."

Her classes inspire 5th graders in the areas of science, technology,engineering and math, or STEM.

Pannell said, "We do a lot of hands-on activities. So, the kids are really involved and see the results right away."

She said it's the intent of Starbase to produce results down the road, hoping interest in STEM developed here morphs into future careers.

Pannell says the military needs those types of thinkers. She said, "Kids who are critical thinkers, analyzers, wanting to know how to solve problems."

They're particularly important skills for Central Georgia's economy, said Starbase Director Wesley Fondal.

He spoke by phone from a conference in Indiana. He said, "Being that there are many defense companies in the area, those companies are looking for people they can readily employ and not have to retrain them."

Fondal says losing Starbase would likely hurt the pool of resources.

The government is considering erasing the program's budget line and moving its management away from the Department of Defense.

Museum of Aviation Foundation President Pat Bartness said, "If it goes into another department, I'm afraid it will disappear or go away all together."

Bartness said a move to another goverment department could take away Starbase's core, removing the military component.

Fondal said the program would not be priority in another government agency's budget.

Pannell said, "It would be a big loss."

Fondal and Bartness are encouraging people in the community to contact legislators about keeping Starbase in the budget.

It's been at Robins for 16 years, offering the classes, plus camps and mentoring in schools.

Starbase programs are also located on 75 other military installations throughout the country.

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