Tiny Presidio High School's Powerhouse TARC Team!
Nestled in southwest Texas less than two miles from the Mexican border, Presidio is not where you’d expect to find the next generation of aerospace engineers and physics teachers. But the tiny town and its residents are quietly carving a niche for themselves among industry experts at the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC), the world’s largest annual student rocket contest.
For the third-poorest school district in Texas, the process has not been an easy feat. Sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) and more than 30 nationwide partners, the contest aims to inspire students to pursue study and ultimately careers in science, math and engineering. Presidio High School entered its first TARC competition in 2007 with a group of freshmen who could barely speak English. The team didn’t make it past the qualifying round. In 2011 those freshmen were seniors, leading five teams with hopes of making it to the final flyoff for the third straight year.
Physics and chemistry teacher Shella Condino has been mentoring Presidio’s TARC teams since their first year in the competition. Under her wing, students who once considered dropping out of high school have improved their communications and writing skills, developed research proposals for NASA and are planning to pursue careers in math, engineering or science. Additionally, they’ve learned to take on adversity with a creative approach. Most TARC teams can spend up to $500 each year just to reach their qualifying flights, while teams invited to participate in the final flyoff pay additional travel costs to get to the competition grounds just outside of Washington, D.C. At Presidio – where 100 percent of the students are eligible for free lunch – fundraising efforts mobilize the entire community in a true reflection of spirit and resilience:
- Each year, Presidio’s heavily Mexican- and Filipino-teacher base cooks meals from their native countries and sell the food to town residents after church.
- Supporters drive more than 200 miles away to the nearest Krispy Kreme, bringing dozens of the novelty treats back to Presidio for a bake sale.
- In perhaps the most unique fundraising initiative, students raise money by raffling off a goat at the annual Presidio Arts festival each March.
Total area: 2.6 square miles Population: 4,698 (July 2009) Economy is based largely on employment at the Presidio Independent School District Represented by Congressman Quico Canseco (R-23rd District)