There was no shortage of praise in October for the Key Peninsula Middle School, praise coming from district, state and NASA officials. Gov. Christine Gregoire and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson stopped by; and NASA Administrator Michael Griffin and Sen. Maria Cantwell sent personal letters.

KPMS earned these high honors by being the first, and one of two, NASA Explorer schools in the state. The school was selected for the three-year partnership through a highly competitive application process. Last year, KPMS embarked on a journey that has included special visits by NASA officials  and astronauts, trips by students and teachers to NASA’s Ames Research Center and Wallops Flight Facility, grants from NASA for equipment, and a variety of activities integrated throughout the entire curriculum.

In October, the school kick-started its second year at an inspiring special assembly attended by a variety of dignitaries and community members, ranging from city of Gig Harbor officials, school principals, and Key Peninsula Community Council directors to firefighters, educators and state Rep. Derek Kilmer. A NASA public relations representative remarked during a pre-assembly reception for the visitors how unusual it was to get such a great number of community leaders for this kind of event.

“I come to say to you, ‘Dream.’ Let no door be closed to you,” Gregoire said in her address to the students. “I am here to ask every one of you to go as far as you can go.”

Gregoire praised the school for its increased Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) scores last year. She shared her experience during her recent trip to China, and said the state is no longer competing with its neighbors Oregon and Idaho — it is competing with countries like China.

“If you don’t do your homework, if you don’t get your diploma” and get as much education as possible, “your future job will go to that kid in China or Japan or India,” she said. Gregoire also shared her personal experience in achieving her dreams and setting out as a young woman to live up to the great expectations set for her by her mother. During the speech, Gregoire asked the adult audience to give a standing ovation to the students.

“I want the Key Peninsula Middle School to be rated one of the top schools not just in this state, not just in this country, but in the whole wide world,” she said. “…If you are from the Key Peninsula Middle School, you have what it takes.”

Bergeson, who also addressed the students, said she selected KPMS this summer as one of three schools in the state to spotlight during her annual report. She said she had followed the school’s progress since attending the kick-off ceremony last year, and noticed a difference in the school’s strengths and confidence of staff and students.

“You are a model for the whole country. You are a model, clearly, for the state,” she said.

Two special speakers at the assembly were NASA’s Mark Leon, director of education at the Ames Research Center, and Dr. Jim Rice, an astrogeologist who’s been working on the Mars missions.

“You are the best, that’s why we’re here,” Leon said. “Everything you do, it’s built on math.”

Both Rice and Leon shared their struggles as students. Rice was inspired to become an astronaut as a child while watching the Apollo missions. He fell a bit short of becoming a NASA astronaut, but instead became one of the key people in the Mars Rover exploration missions. He recalled being discouraged by teachers to dream about space because he was not a very good student (who failed algebra), but he didn’t give up.

“This country to me is built on explorers and dreams, and people who don’t give up,” he said, making a parallel between the discoveries made by Columbus and discoveries being made today.

The assembly marked the beginning of the second NASA Explorer year at KPMS. Science teacher Kareen Borders, credited with bringing the opportunity to the school, told the KP News plans for this year include continuing the family night program, which was very successful last year, and increasing the community outreach. The first community outreach event, a lecture by Dr. Chris McKay, was held in September, and similar events will be planned. The school was also one of 10 selected to pilot a “Lunar Challenge” program, which will involve 15 sixth-grade students and their parents.

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