NASA welcomed 26 new NASA Explorer Schools (NES) on May 5 in a partnership to inspire students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Sponsored and implemented by NASA in cooperation with NSTA, the program provides unique opportunities designed to engage and educate the future scientists who may someday help advance U.S. scientific interests through space exploration.
Part of NASA's elementary and secondary programs, the schools seek to attract and retain students in science and technical fields through a series of educational opportunities for students in grades 4–9 and their teachers and administrators. NASA's 150 NES teams, which primarily come from minority and underrepresented communities, represent all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. School teams participate in a one-week summer professional development workshop at one of 10 NASA field centers and benefit from a continuing partnership with NASA.
Selected schools are eligible to receive up to $17,500 during the three-year partnership to help buy technology tools. The program also provides educators and students with content-specific activities that can be used in many local and state curricula to excite students about science and math.
NASA announced the 2006 NES during an event at its Washington, D.C., headquarters that was attended by teachers and students from the 26 schools. Bernice Garnett Alston, the agency’s Deputy Chief Education Officer, reminded the students that their teachers had competed with other teachers from around the country to be selected for the program. She detailed possible career opportunities with NASA and in STEM fields, including being a future crew member of NASA’s Crew Exploration Vehicle, which will serve as the replacement for the space shuttle.
Christopher Blair, a teacher at Oscar Patterson Elementary Magnet School in Panama City, Florida—which was named an NES school in 2003—described his school’s experiences with the program. Students have participated in robotics and lunar challenge programs, built rockets, and designed and tested an experiment on a C9 microgravity flight, among other activities. As a result of its participation in the program, noted Blair, the 350-student school was awarded a $1.7 million grant from Magnet Schools of America to help facilitate its math, science, and technology lab. The lab is staffed by a full-time, certified, NASA-trained teacher who uses an integrated curriculum that features NASA materials and online resources.
Blair added that NES brings “attainability” to elementary and middle school students because “they don’t have to wait until high school” to participate. He said students at Oscar Patterson have learned “there is more to NASA than just space and astronauts”: They have discovered a wide range of possible careers connected with the space program.
Sixth grader Arzeena Ali from Chicago’s Joyce Kilmer Elementary School said she has enjoyed being part of NES because it provides opportunities for students to meet astronauts, participate in videoconferences with scientists, and attend NASA family nights. She said the program is “opening doors to dreams I never thought possible.”
The NASA Explorer Schools program was chosen as one of the "Top Innovations in American Government Awards for 2006" by the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University.
For a list of the NASA Explorer Schools and additional information, visit www.explorerschools.nasa.gov/portal/site/nes.