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Even the sky isn’t the limit for this 5th-grader

PALM BEACH GARDENS — He met the governor at Florida Space Day in Tallahassee and has worked with Congressman Brian Mast. He was part of a presentation for the Seminole Tribe’s executive director of administration, Lee Zepeda. He’s been working with classmates on the launch of a satellite into space. And that’s just a few of his accomplishments.

It’s pretty clear Ben Purvis Jr. is not your typical fifth-grader.

On May 3, Purvis was part of an event at the Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens where meetups and special TEDx presentations took place. It was all part of celebrating the students and the school’s efforts in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and aerospace initiatives.

Zepeda and Dr. Tammy Ferguson, head of school, were on hand to hear presentations from the students, including from Purvis.

Purvis is a member of the Wolverine CubeSat Development Team (WCDT) at the school. He’s learning the ropes toward the launch of a high altitude balloon.

If it sounds a little complex, it is. But Kevin L. Simmons and his staff are used to seeing Weiss School students like Purvis shine.

Science educator Simmons is the force behind two Weiss School satellites, one that’s already in space (the WeissSat-1) and one that soon will be (the CapSat-1).

Simmons came to the Weiss School about four years ago to create a program that would give students the chance to design, build and launch satellites. He teaches aerospace as an elective and meets each week with about 40 students involved in the satellite program.

Late last year, students launched the first small satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It was sent into space carrying extremophile bacteria. Students wanted to know if the bacteria could survive.

The launch marked the first time a satellite built by middle school students was sent into orbit. Purvis is expected to be more directly involved in the second.

The second one – about the same size as the first and also approved by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) – will have a different mission.

Instead of studying bacteria in space, students will test the efficiency of capacitors in space instead of regular batteries.

Purvis, whose parents are Shannon and Ben Sr., is looking forward to his evolving role in the program when he hits the sixth grade next year. Purvis’ younger sister Cyndl also attends Weiss School. The family divides their time between Palm Beach Gardens and Okeechobee.

Purvis and his Weiss School team members meet regularly throughout the week. They went to Florida Space Day as part a policy team that is focused on the legislative efforts of the satellite program.

While at Space Day, Purvis attended a press conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis and met lawmakers in the Senate chamber.

He’s gone to a number of events and has met with a slew of legislators to educate them about the importance of funding programs like the one at the Weiss School.

Purvis’ group worked closely with Rep. Mast, a Republican, whose Florida 18th district covers an area from Fort Pierce to Palm Beach.

WCDT members worked with Mast’s legislative director to compose a resolution for increased funding for NASA projects such as its CubeSat Launch Initiative. Last year, Mast introduced a WeissSat-1 resolution in the U.S. House.

“We learned how to debate with senators, but my favorite part [of working on the legislative team] was we had to find solutions for problems that occurred. We had to work together as a team,” Purvis said at the May 3rd event.

Meanwhile, now that the CapSat-1 satellite is launched into orbit, the students will use the information they gather to build a rover they hope will be sent to the moon.

No doubt Purvis will be involved in that project as well.

The Weiss School, located at 4176 Burns Road, is a pre-K through eighth-grade private school with about 300 students.

From left, at the Weiss School are Dr. Tammy Ferguson, head of school; Lee Zepeda, executive director of administration for the Seminole Tribe of Florida; and the Purvis family: Ben Jr., Cyndl, Shannon and Ben Sr. (Photo Damon Scott)
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Damon Scott
Damon is a staff reporter for The Seminole Tribune. Prior to moving to Florida, he was a reporter and editor for print and digital publications in his home state of New Mexico. When Damon’s not working on a story, you’ll probably find him at a hot yoga class or splashing around on some South Florida beach. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.

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