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Hands-on learning prepares students

Northwest Guardian

Published: 11:00PM July 24th, 2014

Now in its 10th year, Key, Peninsula Middle School’s NASA Explorer program continues to educate students while impacting their futures as they venture into college.

“We are helping to prepare our students to become productive citizens and using NASA’s unique resources to be able to do so,” said Kareen Borders, NASA Explorer School Team Lead.

The program launched in 2003 with hundreds of schools applying. Key Peninsula Middle School in Lakebay applied in 2004 and was selected among 50 other schools, making it the first in Washington State.

The program gives students in fourth to 12th grade real hands-on experience using science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM courses.

Students are able to work with NASA personnel, like astronauts and aeronautical engineers, by visiting with them through teleconference.

When the school launched an aerospace program, service members from Joint Base Lewis-McChord were enlisted to educate the students. Help from JBLM was a natural fit for the course, which focuses on aerospace and astronomy, Borders said.

“We’ve had pilots from (JBLM) come and talk and work with our students,” she said. “They’ve been our guest speakers and have really given our students that tangible connection. It’s been a great partnership for the last decade.”

They also receive some financial support from the Air Force Association’s McChord Chapter whenever possible.

Since implementing the program Key Peninsula Middle School has also stepped up its STEM courses, something the Air Force Association’s McChord Chapter encourages. The AFA also provides financial support to the program whenever possible.

Borders noted that since the program started there has been an increase in the number of students taking advance-placement courses in high school.

“There’s a lot of quantitative and qualitative data we have showing our test scores on our state tests have dramatically increased,” she said.

And the improvements don’t stop in middle school. Borders said she is also starting to see their students pursue STEM degrees in college.

“We are seeing a real difference,” Borders said. “What we are seeing is our students are actually excelling into college, and that is very nice.”

On June 5 Key Peninsula Middle School celebrated its 10th anniversary as a NASA Explorer School. JBLM service members attended the event in support of the school and the program.

“We just really value our partnerships with the community and especially JBLM,” Borders said. “The more we can have interactions with our community the better our students are ready for college and careers.”

Veronica Sandate Craker: veronica.craker@nwguardian.com