Ten-year-old Diego Flores has learned to shoot for the stars and he is taking the lesson literally.
Recently becoming an American citizen, the Blanton Elementary School student said he had met former astronaut Jose M. Hernandez last year but was already interested in the subject from reading a book about moon landings.
Asked what gives him such a high-flying ambition, Diego told the Odessa American , "You get to float in space and walk on another planet."
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The gifted and talented student at Dowling Elementary became a citizen the same time his father did a few weeks ago in El Paso. His family is from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and moved to the United States when Diego was 3.
Diego said he didn't have to take the citizenship test and immigration attorney Tatiana Dennis explained that there are cases where children can attain citizenship if they meet certain requirements, such as if the child is under 18 and has at least one parent who becomes a citizen.
Asked how he felt about becoming an official American, the youngster said it was nice.
"I want to become an astronaut and you have to be a U.S. citizen to work at NASA," said Diego, whose favorite subject in school is science.
For their part, Amanda Ives, his fifth-grade math and homeroom teacher, Kristy Tacker, his social studies teacher, and Michelle Norrid, his reading teacher, are bursting with pride at Diego's accomplishments.
Tacker, who had him as a student last year, said he tries hard in everything.
Ives said Flores told her he was going to be absent to get sworn in and she thought that was a pretty good reason to be out.
"I even gave him a pass on his homework that day. I figured he deserved it," Ives said.
Norrid said Flores is an inquisitive reader. "He's still learning the English language, so (we) make sure we give him that ESL (English as a second language) support as well.
"But Diego is not shy. A lot of ESL students are shy about asking for help. He'll raise his hand. He genuinely wants to know what a word means. As we're reading along, he'll raise his hand and I'll just go to him privately and tell him what a word means. He's a great kid," Norrid said.
She added that Flores sets a good example for all the students, showing the importance of being a lifelong learner.
"We're all learners. I tell my kids that all the time. I'm not your go-to for answers and neither are your other teachers. You're the one because you can look things up. You can research," Norrid said.
Diego's success has also taught students a lesson in goal setting, the teachers said.
"He's got a big goal. His is to become an astronaut for NASA. He met one last year at an ESL conference at Ector Middle School," Tacker said. "He enjoyed it; got his book signed. He's got NASA shoes, backpack. He wears it everywhere because that's just his goal. That's what he wants to do when he grows up."
Tacker added that Diego's parents are very supportive and said he is "just a happy kid."
"He just comes and does what he has to do," Ives said.