Students at Dr. Sally K. Ride Elementary School in Germantown had their heads in the clouds on Thursday, but nobody was complaining.
The students spent the morning celebrating with administrators, school board members and officials from the U.S. Mint that their school’s namesake—who in 1983 became the first American woman to go into space—was being honored with her likeness on a quarter.
A year ago, the U.S. Mint announced the first two women to be honored on quarters as part of the American Women Quarters Program, the first coin program to exclusively honor women. The program “celebrates the accomplishments and contributions made by women to the development and history of our country,” according to the U.S. Mint website.
One was writer Maya Angelou and the other was Ride, an astronaut. Through the program, five women will be featured each year until 2025. The other women who will be honored this year are: Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; Nina Otero-Warren, a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement and the first superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools; Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood.
As the release date approached for the quarter bearing Ride’s likeness, which began circulating earlier this year, the school’s PTA reminded Principal Elise Burgess of the event and she reached out to the Mint to see if students could each receive a coin.
That led to a partnership in which students learned about Ride’s life through a variety of activities, including doing projects and taking virtual field trips, learning how coins are made, and connecting online with astronauts who answered questions each week, Burgess said.
It all culminated in Thursday’s event, where historians, federal leaders, school district officials and students gathered to remember Ride, whom school board President Brenda Wolff described as “a high achiever, literally reaching new heights for women everywhere.”
The students were each given one of Ride’s quarters on Thursday.
Ride was born in California in 1951 and was an avid tennis player growing up, according to historians who attended Thursday’s event. She received four degrees from Stanford University before being selected as one of NASA’s first six female astronauts. Ride began training in 1978 and participated in her first spaceflight in 1983 when she was 32.
She died of cancer in 2012 at the age of 61.
The quarter that honors her depicts Ride in her spacesuit, looking out of the window of a spaceship.
Students also designed their own quarters in Ride’s honor and their drawings were on display Thursday. Two students—Amari Gaye and Diem Nguyen—were honored as winners of an artwork competition.
Fifth-grade student Jayden Odur also was honored for her original drawing of Ride, and second-grader Raiza Jurado sang a song she wrote about the astronaut and how she has been inspired to follow in Ride’s footsteps.
Ride’s life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, recorded a video for the school prior to Thursday’s event.
In it, she said she hopes that learning about Ride and seeing her likeness on a quarter will inspire students and show them that “you, too, can make a difference.”
“If Sally were here today, this is what she’d say to you: ‘Follow your interests. Dream big. And reach for the stars,’ ” O’Shaughnessy said.
Ventris Gibson, deputy director of the U.S. Mint, said the organization’s American Women Quarters Program is “exciting” and “marks a time in our history of significant change.”
“And it’s about time,” Gibson said, adding later, “Women are on coins — finally.”
Ride did not have any formal ties to Montgomery County, according to a school district spokesman. However, MCPS often names school facilities after prominent public figures.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org