Future Astronaut Helps His Students Reach for the Stars

West Contra Costa Unified science teacher Olaoluwalotobi “Tobi” Thomas has dreamed of going to space since he was a child. The passion was reignited several years ago after he read a book by Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to travel to space. He’d picked up Dr. Jemision’s book after a conversation with a student who was being bullied by peers.

“Before I knew it, I’m in Poland doing an analog astronaut program,” Thomas told EdSource. He’s now an astronaut-in-training, preparing to possibly go into space.  

While Thomas finishes his training, he’s trying to inspire the young people he teaches to also reach for the stars.

Thomas shares his love and knowledge of space exploration with his sixth graders at the Vista Virtual Academy. In addition to the required curriculum, he makes time for discussions about space. He also keeps them updated on his training and progress, sharing photographs, articles and the latest research.

He hopes the kids will carry those lessons with them through adulthood.

“It’s so easy,” he said, “to get bogged down with all of these standardized tests, all of these benchmarks that we have to meet with the students, and then lose the essence of what we’re even here in school for: to inspire these students to figure out what they want to do in life and give them the tools to chase that.”


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