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Celebrating an aerospace hero to inspire next gen pioneers

The school named in memory of legendary test pilot Joe Walker will launch a season of events honoring past accomplishments and inspiring future leaders in exploration through Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

On Feb. 25, Westside Union School District’s Joe Walker Middle School STEALTH Academy in Quartz Hill, Calif., will celebrate Joe Walker Day, first in the series of educational events centered around the life and legacy of its namesake.

Math instructor and steering committee member Liz Anderson said, “the vision for activities was threefold: To better educate the students on the legacy of Joe Walker, encourage our alumni to celebrate their experience here at Joe Walker, and to conclude with a community celebration that includes the opening of the time capsule buried at the time of the school’s opening.

Anderson added, “Joe Walker Day, Feb. 25, is a revival of an old school tradition that celebrated the life and accomplishments of its namesake. Each department would have the students participate in an activity related to their field of discipline. This year’s event has evolved into something quite special in that we will have guest speakers on campus to best share with the students the life and legacy of Joe Walker.”

The second event, Community Expo, scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. on March 17, encourages all past pupils to attend and get a glimpse of what Joe Walker offers today.

One of those former students, and a keynote presenter is Brian Sandberg, who grew up to become an Engineering Test Pilot with Lockheed Martin, and currently serving as President Elect of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

Sandberg recalled, “I attended Joe Walker Middle School from 1986 until 1989, 6th through 8th grades. It is unlikely that I would have stumbled upon the significance of the school’s namesake had it not been for our history teacher Mr. Van (Robert Van Wassenhove 1925-2021). He coordinated an annual Joe Walker Day where we’d hear from guest speakers and at least once viewed parts of his appearance on This is Your Life at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGdUaspGTfk.

“As an adolescent who knew real live test pilots through my father, I suppose that Joe didn’t seem especially unique. However, carrying his name with me throughout my training and career, I have come to respect the contributions he made during the Golden Age of Flight Test.

“When I try to describe him to the uninitiated I often suggest he would have been the first man on the moon. He was on the same track as many other would-be astronauts- in fact awarded the moniker Aug. 23, 2005.

Sandberg noted that Joe Walker was a charter member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and,” a significant enough member of the local community to have the school named after him. Those are big shoes for any young person to follow, and students of JWMS should feel inspired by his story. In a twist of fate, 24 years after leaving the Antelope Valley I was drawn back by aerospace work and my daughter, Kaylie, attends Joe Walker STEALTH Academy.”

The closing event at 11 a.m. on April 2 is the school’s 50th Anniversary Dedication Ceremony, celebrating “50 years of Excellence in Education.”

Steering Committee member Anderson, who also leads in the school’s WEB, VEX Robotics and Leadership programs , commented, “It has been such a pleasure working with the community in bringing this event to fruition. Our steering committee started meeting in the fall and consists of members of the aerospace community, the Walker family, alumni, and teachers, students and administration from the school. “

She said, “As a test pilot, Joe Walker pushed boundaries and we encourage our students to do the same. We have an acronym posted in our rooms: F.A.I.L. It means First Attempt In Learning. All of Joe Walker’s flights as an experimental test pilot were about learning. I think that is why our school is so exceptional. We have been the first in offering programs to help our students find their passion. Joe Walker was also an active community member. Our school has a rich history of collaboration with our community partners. I have been at Joe Walker for 25 years and I am very honored to be part of this moment of our school’s history.”

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