How a teacher is inspiring greatness in Presidio, Texas

If you're a kid looking to escape the poverty and isolation of Presidio, Texas, there's really no greater vehicle than the Presidio Rocket Club
If you're a kid looking to escape the poverty... 03:06

PRESIDIO, Texas -- In the middle of the Texas desert, on the border with Mexico, sits the tiny town of Presidio.

If you're a kid looking to escape the poverty and isolation of Presidio, there's really no greater vehicle than the Presidio Rocket Club. It was launched a few years ago by a firecracker of a science teacher named Shella Condino.

"I wanted to teach the kids: You want something so bad, you put your heart into it," she says.

Her goal isn't really to make future rocket scientists; it's more just to make futures.


"In rocketry, you don't have instructions on how to build it," says tenth-grader Marla Baltazar. "And that's how life is. It doesn't come with instructions, you have to make it on your own."

Her teacher knows all about that. Born dirt-poor in the Philippines, she came to the U.S. on a temporary work visa. She came to Presidio because no American teachers would.

When we first met her in 2012, she really wanted a green card, but was having a hard time convincing immigration officials that she was a person of "exceptional abilities."

"They are asking for more documents, more support, and I really do not know what else they would want from me," she told us back then. It seemed unworthy of "the best aerospace teacher in America."

"Thank you,'" she said to that, but it wasn't CBS naming her that. She won an award with that distinction.

It was no surprise to her students.

"She'll teach you things and you'll learn it like this," says seventh-grader Hector Montemayor, "as long as you pay attention, of course."

She's such a motivating force, her kids often get up before sunrise to learn and launch.

Their equipment is mostly begged, borrowed and broken. Their budget is mostly bake sales, barbeques and goat auctions. And yet despite all the obstacles, she continued run one the country's most highly respected, high school rocketry programs.

Then last fall she got a letter from immigration saying, "You are not authorized to remain in the United States and to depart as soon as possible."

Texas Congressman Pete Gallego heard about her plight and had his staff do some digging.

"I was appalled. You know, that's one of those not very commonsensical decisions that Washington is famous for," says Gallego.

Turns out that letter was actually a clerical error. What she should have gotten was her green card.

"I can stay," Condino exclaims while hugging Gallego.

She learned a lesson; the same lesson she's been teaching her kids all these years.

"Never. Give. Up," Montemayor says. "You can do anything in this world, as long as you never give up."

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  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.