The Key Peninsula Middle School doesn’t know yet how it will structure its NASA Explorer program or what kind of equipment it will buy with the $17,000 that comes with it—but it already sounds exciting.

KPMS science teacher Kareen Borders returned from a one-week kickoff program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to share how impressed she was with presentations made by last year’s students from various schools. Along with 49 other school representatives, she toured the space center and participated in the first of many workshops.

The partnership has allowed students to learn and research alongside scientists as they gather data from current experiments on the International Space Station and the Mars Exploration Mission, according to NASA. Many other opportunities will open up as each school individualizes a strategic plan. This is NASA Explorer program’s second year, and so far KPMS is the only school in Washington state to have been selected.

In summer, Borders and four other members of the schools’ NASA team will fly to the Aimes Research Center in California, where with the help of NASA representatives they will outline the three-year program. Sometime in the fall, the agency will have an official ceremony at the school.

Borders has used grant opportunities in the past to enhance her science curriculum, and what attracted her to NASA’s program was the fact that it’s aligned with the school district’s curriculum. Several disciplines including technology and math can be integrated.

“NASA is really interested in education,” Borders said. “Administrator Shawn O’Keefe feels it’s our kids’ (generation) who will go to Mars.”

The KPMS students were very excited and proud when they watched footage with the announcement of the school’s name, Borders said. No doubt that excitement will continue as the program becomes implemented, especially since the school will have access to NASA resources and other support. Last year, astronauts even visited some schools.

“We’re counting on the next generation of explorers to help carry the torch of exploration to the farthest regions of the universe,” O’Keefe said in announcing this year’s recipients. “There used to be a saying that the sky is the limit. Well, in this first year of the second century of flight, the sky and the heavens are not the limit, but rather the starting point of our exploration adventures.”