By Allison Riddle, Utah’s Teacher of the Year

As an elementary teacher, I don’t often get to see where my students end up in life. Colleagues teaching in high school watch their students climb the stage at graduation, winning scholarships and awards I rarely hear about. As my 11-year-olds leave, I can only predict the progress they may make, or challenges they may face in coming years.

A few years ago I ran into the parents of a student I had taught some 15 years earlier. I remembered their daughter Amy Jo as a happy, active student with a blonde ponytail and beautiful blue eyes. When I asked what she was up to, her parents beamed.

“She’s a rocket scientist,” her mom said. I admit that at first I thought they were kidding. She was serious. The adorable 10-year-old who loved softball and coloring pictures was now a rocket scientist working for a private company stationed at Hill Air Force Base. She shared with me that Amy Jo often credits our after school Young Astronauts program for launching her interest in space flight.

“That program is the reason she is a rocket scientist,” her mom told me. “The excitement she experienced never left her!”

I wouldn’t want to be the one to have to tell Amy Jo’s parents that the kind of opportunity that fueled their daughter’s dream may not exist much longer in America.

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