New elementary school named after legendary NASA mathematician opens in Tacoma

Monday was an exciting start to the school week for more than 500 elementary school students in the Bethel School District. It was the first day of school at the brand new Katherine G. Johnson Elementary in Tacoma

Johnson, an African American, was a mathematician for NASA for more than 30 years. Her calculations helped send astronauts to the moon as part of the Apollo 11 Mission. NASA called Johnson an American hero and pioneer, "who will never be forgotten."

"Now that I’m in a school named after someone that was important to society and helping someone go into space, I think that’s just inspiring to some people that want to become her," said fifth grade student Alayna Techur." "All the stuff that she did is still appreciated to this day."

Johnson died in Feb. 2020 at 101 years old. Though her career with NASA spanned three decades, it wasn’t until recent years that her work started gaining recognition. Her legacy could inspire the elementary students to become pioneers in their own way.

"I’m so excited now that there’s all these new kind of things, new features. I’m just so excited and everything is just so cool," said Techur.

"Katherine G. Johnson has inspired us to reach for the stars and that’s what we’re inspiring our kids to do. So, we talk about her, we’ve read about her, we’re learning about her. We’re using her an inspiration for our kids to be future scientists and engineers, mathematicians, artists," said Mary Waddell, STEAM specialist at Katherine G. Johnson Elementary.

The K-5th Grade school can hold 700 students. Many of them are excited to see the school’s STEAM Lab—focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics.

"We have 3D printers, laser cutters, cricket cutter, we have this amazing stem maker space where kids can put their creativity and problem-solving to work and just get their hands in there from a very, very early age," said Lindsay Smolko, STEAM specialist at Katherine G. Johnson Elementary.

Parents will have a chance to check out the new school during conferences next week. Teachers said they hope to bring in local professionals as guests presenters at the school.

"We’re excited to bring people in—cardiologists, and we have Boeing and Microsoft and all these people right in our backyard. I want to introduce them to our students, so they can see themselves and their futures in these people that live around us," said Smolko.

Bethel School District has more information about the new elementary school.

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