Photo by Rodika Tollefson

The mission control room was really just a decorated gym and the astronauts in training were ordinary middle school students—but the liftoff of the Key Peninsula Middle School’s NASA Explorer program was nonetheless impressive. The October launch ceremony, attended by state and local dignitaries as well as NASA representatives including astronaut Nicholas Patrick, was filled with praise for the school and a promising future for its students.

“As I look around this room, I see NASA’s future,” said Ames Research Center Deputy Director Stan Newberry, who focused on the breadth of opportunities at NASA outside of the science field — from cooking and landscaping to writing.

“Don’t be afraid to dream… Every man and woman who works at NASA started out just like you,” said Newberry, who grew up in rural Georgia. Dr. Patrick, NASA astronaut waiting for his first mission, echoed similar hopes. Pointing to an astronaut footprint left on the Moon, he told the students that someday one of them might leave a similar footprint on Mars. “What I have seen here has really impressed me,” Patrick, a former Seattle resident who worked for Boeing, said. “I can’t think of a better school we could have picked.”

Patrick wasn’t the only one impressed by the school. After science teacher Kareen Borders applied for the program, the application went through several rounds of reviews and cuts.

When asked what made KPMS stand out in the very competitive process, Newberry told KP News part of the school’s strengths were demonstrated at the kickoff: the team spirit, strong organization, school district and community support.

“The school was a perfect match,” he said.

NASA selects 50 schools from across the nation for the program, which is in its second year. KPMS is the first and only Washington state school to participate — which means the school’s NASA team and the district will have opportunities to share their experience with schools statewide.

Although the three-year program is focused on math and sciences, it will be integrated across the curriculum to include social studies and language arts, Borders said.

In addition to a variety of resources, training, materials, hands-on and interactive activities, NASA will also provide a $17,500 grant over the three years, which will be used to purchase videoconferencing equipment, technology and other materials.

“They have been pretty flexible with our needs,” Borders said, adding that the students have been very engaged and excited.

It will be a while before the students get a complete taste of what the honor means, but at the launch ceremony they demonstrated the school pride with exceptional behavior and respect for the guests. This earned them a thumbs up from the state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, praise from Peninsula School District Superintendent Jim Coolican, and a standing ovation from the rest of the visitors.

Principal Dennis Nugent summed it up nicely at the assembly. “We are all so proud of you,” he told the students. “You really showed Cougar pride today.”

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