There’s a term for people who pack up and move away from home in order to escape their problems and attempt to bring order back into their lives. It’s called “doing a geographic,” and it’s where a person won’t change themselves, but choose instead to change their address.
While our five newest graduates all arrived at Eagle Rock from distant hometowns and situations, it’s quite apparent they all turned their “geographics” into positive experiences. Instead of blaming the people around them, or their schools, or their parents, these high schoolers accepted their part in their particular situation.
That’s why we’ve set aside this entire blog post to highlight the Eagle Rock experiences of our five latest grads — Chance Lyons, Tobee Malinzak, Derik Bernardez, Ashley Hernandez and Amelia Horne. Here are their stories:
Chance Lyons grew up within a tight-knit family in Littleton, Colorado. But once he reached high school, he drifted away from that upbringing, becoming more “independent in the wrong way.” After performing poorly at two other high schools, he realized that he needed a change.
“Eagle Rock’s philosophy of 8+5=10 was really appealing,” Lyons explained. “I realized I could come out of this place a better person.”
When he joined the campus community, Chance struggled with some of the common challenges of a new student. He had to overcome his loss of personal space and relearn the advantages of living in a close-knit family. “Instead of withdrawing into myself, I’d put myself further out there and it would offer me more space to work on myself,” Lyons said. “I was starting to develop self awareness, which grew into self control.”
Music played an important role in Chance’s personal growth. In learning how to collaborate with other musicians, he saw how it could give him an “immediate look at yourself, an insight into who you are and who they are.” He started to play everything, beginning with the piano but soon expanding to accordion, synthesizer, bass, guitar, vocals, and drums. “I played the trumpet last night,” he said, laughing.
He learned a different type of self-reflection in the classroom, particularly through Societies & Cultures Instructor Berta Guillen’s “Facing History, Face Yourself.” Lyons reflected that “Bee’s classroom provided a place to look at myself, race, culture, and the realities of the world with open eyes.”
Chance wants to go into the healing arts, explore Canada and Iceland, and get involved with the hip-hop community in Denver. He acknowledges that he has come a long way since arriving at Eagle Rock.
“I feel way more centered. I definitely have a better idea of what my place is in the grand scheme of things,” he said. “Before it was all about me, and now life is not all about me. Once you start taking responsibility for your own stuff, it’s easier to walk the path.”
In some ways, Tobee Malinzak’s background is not so different from that of his friend, Chance. While he grew up far away in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Tobee found himself similarly unmotivated, doing drugs, and “chilling with the wrong crowd” in high school.
He heard about Eagle Rock through a close friend, and he jumped at the chance to get away from home and be on his own. “I started focusing on my education; I used to not take education seriously at all,” Malinzak said.
He acknowledges that he initially abused his newfound freedom. After breaking rules and being approached by the Discipline Committee and other staff, “I continuously lied to their faces,” he admitted. “In the end, I got called out during a Wednesday Gathering and got kicked out.”
He credits that ouster as his most significant learning experience. After leaving Eagle Rock, Tobee spent time with his uncle in Colorado and then with family in Ohio and Michigan. One day, his mom asked him if it might be better to get his GED. At this point, he realized that he needed to return. “No,” he told her, “I need to go back.” He sent emails to request a second chance, and eventually he returned.
Malinzak cites Director of Students Philbert Smith, as the person who is responsible for getting him to graduation. “He gave me so many chances — he worked with me,” Tobee explained. “I would lie to him, and he’d keep questioning me. He never gave up on me. I hated him sometimes because it’s easier to blame other people, but he’s changed my life.”
After graduating this month, Tobee will start a five-month job working on trails with the California Conservation Corps. For fun, he plans to keep “bumpin’ to smooth hip-hop and spittin’ an occasional freestyle.” He eventually plans to move back to Denver to get an apartment and a job.
Derik Bernardez grew up even further east, hailing from Harlem, New York. As he got into high school, Derik knew he needed a change of scenery. What he wanted was to “to get away from the streets and be challenged.” He found out about Eagle Rock through mentor Abishai Freeman from the Harlem Children’s Zone.
“He knew there was something that I wanted,” Bernardez said. “I had potential, but I needed a new environment to put that to use. He knew me better than I knew myself at the time.”
Between the quiet rural atmosphere and living at altitude, Derik found Eagle Rock challenging at first, but he quickly adapted. He appreciated being about to “see something new” after living in the same building for 17 years.
Bernardez took to heart the school commitment to “find, nurture, and develop the artist within.” Between a dance course over Explore Week and classes like the Chemistry of Clay, he began to discover new sides to his creativity. “I loved being about to get creative with my hands and my mind,” he mused. “I didn’t think I’d be able to be patient with clay.”
Derik has also performed in several school productions, most recently playing the role of “Benny” in the musical In The Heights held at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center. He hopes to study theater in college and make acting into a career.
After working back in New York this summer, Bernardez will enter Morehouse College as a freshman. As the recipient of the Bonner Scholarship, he will receive full tuition support for four years.
Ashley Hernandez discovered Eagle Rock through her older sister. She’s from Texas, but she grew up in Colorado and relished the opportunity to join her sister in high school.
“I wanted to change — and not go to the high school where I knew it wouldn’t be right,” Hernandez explained.
Though Ashley joined the Eagle Rock community at 14, an unusually young age, she initially thrived with the support of her sister. After her sibling graduated, it was a little more difficult to cope with the closeness of the community.
“Eventually I learned how to not worry about what people say or think about me,” she said. “I was really affected by little things like that for a while.”
She has come into her own in the past few trimesters. Between performing the role of Daniela, a sassy salon owner, in In The Heights, and coordinating the school-wide Spirit Week, Hernandez has taken a greater leadership role on campus. She feels like she has built “good relationships with people,” and cites friends and teachers like Tess Gantz and Beth Ellis for providing a “support system on rough days.”
Ashley is applying for a summer scholarship to study vocal music at Berklee College of Music in Boston. In the future, she hopes to study criminal justice at Johnson & Wales in Denver.
She acknowledges the personal growth she has made in the past few years at Eagle Rock. “I had a hard time branching out and opening up to people. I wasn’t confident; I didn’t forgive myself,” she admitted. “Now I’m on good terms with myself.”
Amelia Horne also heard about Eagle Rock through her older sister, although she was less eager to follow in her footsteps. Growing up in Las Vegas, New Mexico, she was bored at school and doing stuff “you shouldn’t be doing.”
“It was hard to leave all my friends to come to Eagle Rock,” Horne said. “But developing relationships with stronger females helped me loved myself more and be happier.”
With the support of people like her houseparents and adult mentor Linda Beiker, Horne began to enjoy life at Eagle Rock. Horne cites an Explore Week class on Reiki taught by Nannette Chisholm as a particularly moving course. “It was a spiritual experience,” she said. “She felt a lot of healing from that week. Sometimes trips look fun, but then they are filled with people who don’t want to be there. Everyone wanted to be there that week. There was really loving energy.”
In living with others at Eagle Rock, Amelia appreciates the opportunities she’s had to examine herself and her culture. “I have learned how to know myself by looking at my culture from an outside perspective,” she said. “I have learned how to communicate based on understanding what people might see versus what I see.”
Between snowboarding, yoga, playing flamenco guitar, dancing, and exploring hands-on work experiences, Amelia has her hands full. After graduating from Eagle Rock, she wants to travel to South America and visit her sister in Hawaii, and will be attending Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio!