Andrew P. Hill High School

Andrew P. Hill High School is a public school in an underserved area of San Jose, California and one of the first to offer Quest for Space to its students. The Level II curriculum was introduced to the school in 2016 through the FireHouse Program, an after-school initiative for students with four or more failing grades. The Firehouse Program began as a way to help students who seemed to have no motivation for learning, and was Principal Hernandez’s effort to re-engage his most underachieving students.

Engineers from Cisco, Microsoft, and NASA volunteered their time to the program, hoping to give the 14 students that signed up a new perspective on education and learning. When mentor Danny Kim asked the students why they wanted to participate, their answers blew him away. “One young man said that he wanted to make a difference, others answered they wanted to do something that challenged them; some said they wanted to change their life. I told them that if they came to class and made the effort, they would launch an experiment on the International Space Station.”

News of this exciting opportunity spread, and soon the high-achieving students at the school wanted to join as well. This created an amazing dynamic with students of all achievement levels working together to run an experiment on the ISS. Over the course of three months, students learned and applied concepts from mechanical, electrical, and software engineering, and the team dynamics helped students develop skills like empathy, communication, collaborative problem solving, and leadership.

Out of the 14 students initial students who signed up, each of them picked up their grades and all six seniors graduated and enrolled in college—three of them receiving scholarships. It is a testament not only to the students who worked hard to achieve the impossible, but also to those who invested time, gave them the opportunity, and believed in them.