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Former astronaut Hernandez guest at St. Paul’s Preschool

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POSTED September 19, 2012 12:41 a.m.

Former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez, who is running for Congress in the Central Valley’s newly drawn 10th district as a Democrat, will be at St. Paul’s Preschool Friday as an invited guest.

“He will give a little presentation to the kids and talk about being an astronaut and in space,” said Preschool Director Belinda Berry.

“We’re having Space Month in September, and (meeting the former astronaut) will be a bit of a first-hand experience for the kids,” Berry said.

A staffer at the candidate’s office in Modesto said Hernandez will be at the preschool at 11 a.m. In addition to giving a presentation about his experiences in space as a NASA astronaut, the French Camp native will be bringing copies of his photographs in a spacesuit that he will be autographing and giving away that day, according to the staff member.

Berry said they initially thought that because of his hectic schedule, the candidate will only have time for a half-hour appearance at the school.

“But he asked for an hour – from 11 a.m. until dismissal. He also asked for a sound system and a screen. It’s pretty cool having an astronaut here,” said a really happy Berry who originally was not optimistic about Hernandez being able to squeeze in an appearance at the preschool given his campaign schedule.

When one of the teachers made the suggestion about inviting the former astronaut to appear before the preschoolers and talk about being in space, Berry’s first reaction about getting a response was, “Oh, there’s no way. He’s not going to do those,”

Berry had another reason for sounding not too optimistic at that time. “I think he’s running for something, so I was pleasantly surprised that even with the coming election he’d take the time to come to a preschool. The kids are not going to be voting for awhile,” she added.

When they finally heard from Hernandez’s representative confirming that he will be there, Berry was over the moon. She said, “Oh, my gosh! We’ve never had an astronaut. This is pretty exciting.”

She added, “We’ve had firefighters, we’ve had city dump trucks and school buses. But I think having an astronaut visit the school is the biggest thing we’ve had” to date.

The gathering will be held in St. Paul’s Fireside Room so as to accommodate “more kids than we have in the (11 a.m.) class” and the additional parents who are also going to attend. The preschool has morning and afternoon classes but only has a morning class on Fridays. Berry said many of the students and parents in the afternoon sessions have indicated they will be attending the former astronaut’s presentation and to meet him in person.

Hernandez, who lives in Stockton, grew up in French Camp where he helped his parents, who were migrant farmworkers, work in the fields. His parents always encouraged him to pursue his education, and he went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of the pacific, and his master’s in electrical and computer engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The Stockton native, who did not speak English until he was 12 years old, fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut when he flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery’s 128th mission in 2009.

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