Starbase: Atlantis

The first graduating class of Starbase Atlantis are students at Harris Elementary, sponsored by the Naval Education and Training Center at NAS Meridian.

Started seven years ago in Pensacola, Florida, Starbase Atlantis classes are now offered at 13 locations throughout the U.S. With a target group of students in the fifth grade, program officials said reaching students at this age is important.

"Fifth grade students, if they really haven't decided to excel in school at that time, it's the last time to catch them before they're exposed to older kids," said program director Gordon Harmon.

Once a week, over a five-week period, the students go to the base for a Starbase Atlantis class. The curriculum included everything from physics to astronomy, weather and even improving self-esteem. To wrap up the class each student built his or her own rocket, which they launched for their graduation.

"It improves their thinking skills. They get to become responsible for their own learning," said teacher Rita Reiss. "They get to work together cooperatively and independently and it helps with science project, but it's more than that. It's challenging, but they can do it. That's what I tell them."

In all this year, organizers said at least 24 classes from Meridian and Lauderdale County schools will take part in the classes at NAS. In January program officials said they will offer a similar program to students on the Choctaw Reservation.