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Chicago student shoots for the stars, lands at White House

Scarlett Garcia took her first trip on an airplane earlier this week, but that thrill was nothing compared to her destination: White House Astronomy Night.

“It was all very, very exciting,” said the Logan Square 12-year-old. “Who gets this type of experience, to go see the president and look through a telescope at the moon?”

President Barack Obama greeted the young attendees. Jaime Hyneman and Adam Savage of the Discovery Channel show “MythBusters” also were on hand. Scarlett heard from four of NASA’s newest astronauts, and she tried out a virtual-reality headset to see what it would be like to walk on Mars. She even got to meet Bill Nye, the former host of a children’s science show.

In all, Scarlett and a few hundred others spent about four hours outside the White House — chilled, but happy.

Scarlett was invited to the South Lawn event after serving a Citizens School apprenticeship at the Adler Planetarium. She worked in the Astrophotography program, processing images taken through a telescope of objects she found in space.

She left for Washington early Monday and returned Tuesday. She also squeezed in a stop at the National Mall to see the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.

Scarlett attends Chase Elementary School, 2021 North Point St. She was accompanied by Assistant Principal Evdokia Block.

“I was really nervous” about flying for the first time, Scarlett said. “Mrs. Block said I squealed during takeoff.”

Bertha Velazquez, Scarlett’s mother, could not hold back a smile when talking about her daughter’s opportunity.

“Just imagine how I felt,” Velazquez said. “I was so happy for her.”

Through Citizens School, a national education nonprofit, Scarlett gets academic support, homework help and hands-on learning opportunities. This year, she has an apprenticeship in a high-altitude balloon competition. In November, along with a group of other students, she will launch a hot-air balloon and try to predict where it will land, she said.

“Scarlett and I go way back, since third grade,” Block said. “She’s been a really stellar student. “She’s been very inquisitive, studious and strives for perfect attendance. She’s a student that loves school and understands the value of it.”

Assistant Principal Evdokia Block and Scarlett Garcia had time to see a few other sights before heading to the White House. | Provided

Assistant Principal Evdokia Block and Scarlett Garcia had time to see a few other sights before heading to the White House. | Provided

At the White House, Scarlett Garcia got to meet Bill Nye the Science Guy. | Provided

At the White House, Scarlett Garcia got to meet “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” | Provided