San Jose’s Valley Christian Junior High School has always been the kind of place where students are expected to go on to reach great heights in life.
That has, however, changed a bit as of late.
Valley Christian students are now busy reaching great heights long before they graduate.
Space, for example. “When I first heard this I was like, oh, amazing!” says Valley 8th-grader Sasha Jaffarove.
Sasha is one of more than a dozen students who were chosen this year to participate in the junior high school’s first-ever International Space Station Project.
Started a few years ago at the high school level, and run with the help of NanoRacks, LLC
, the project enables students to devise, design, and build experiments that are sent, via rocket, to the International Space Station.
The experiments test the effect of micro gravity on a variety of molecules and materials. The program has proven such a success at Valley Christian, it has spread to ten other high schools around the world and now, for the first time, to the junior high school level.
These Valley Christian students are likely the youngest people in the world doing this type of work. “Sometimes it doesn’t really sink in,” says 8th-grader Samantha McGinnis, “and then it kind of hits you, and you just have to go wow this is really amazing.”
The two experiments these students are developing test the effects of micro gravity on the density of paint molecules and the growth potential of penicillin.
The project has changed the dreams of many of these middle schoolers, as some now say they look forward to careers in engineering and aeronautics.
The ISS project has also fulfilled, in a way, a long-held dream of their teacher, Malathi Tuers.
Thirty years ago Malathi was a high school teacher in Seminole County, Florida. From her school, she and her students could see NASA’s space shuttle launching from Cape Canaveral.
Back then Malathi applied to be the first teacher in space, the spot eventually filled by New Hampshire teacher Christa Mcauliffe.
Three decades later, her interest in space remains strong, and her thrill in having a role in creating something that will go into orbit is matched only by that of her students.
“It’s just mind-blowing how amazing this is,” Sasha says. “Yeah I’m just going to be so happy, I’m probably going to get emotional.”