Our eight most recent Eagle Rock School graduates took the opportunity to briefly reflect on their time here. Reading their comments, we were drawn to the similarities expressed by these new grads, each of whom will receive their high school diplomas on Friday afternoon, August 8, at a ceremony here in Estes Park, Colorado.
Where negativity is a normal theme of new students to our wilderness campus, it’s refreshing to hear comments about the good things the future holds for these graduates. And we think a lot of that comes from time spent looking for the similarities in your peers instead of the differences.
We’re not always sure why the curriculum at Eagle Rock seems to be so successful. We’d like to credit the administration, the instructors, the staff, the programs. But sometimes it just comes down to a couple of classmates sitting down on a boulder and discussing an issue that’s important to one of them.
So sit yourself down and listen as our new graduates — Nikolay Hayden, Marjorie Furio, Lesly DeLeon, Jeremy Coles, Nicole Bau, Tiffany Wright, Jessy Mejia and Jaliza Perez — relate their Eagle Rock experiences:
Nikolay “Nick” Hayden grew up in Ukraine. When he was adopted at age 11, he relocated to Colorado where he was confronted with a pair of stumbling blocks — a new language and a different culture.
He lived in Colorado Springs with his mom, dad, two brothers, and a sister before enrolling at Eagle Rock. He came to us for a new experience — attending a traditional high school.
“I was crazy because I was young,” Nick said. “I was active all the time. That’s how people saw me.”
In his time at Eagle Rock, Nick said he’s become better at accepting people for who they are by co-existing with others within a small community. He said has also learned a lot from the structure here, which encourages him to be on time and to be organized. For those tools, he credits his house sister, Sandra.
“She helped me a lot in Juniper House,” he explained. “She helped me stay on track. She was really motivated, and I found myself following her because she helped me.”
After graduating, Nick plans to go home to work in lifeguarding or construction with the eventual goal of joining the U.S. Navy.
Marjorie “Star” Furio struggled with the extroverted nature of Eagle Rock from the get-go. Growing up with her mom in Prescott and the Grand Canyon area of Arizona, Star lost her scholarship after receiving failing grades at another boarding school. When she arrived in Estes Park, she was surprised by the difficulty of living so closely with such a diverse group of people.
“I expected it to be cozy, and I had to adjust to conflict and feeling uncomfortable at times,” Star admitted.
She cites Human Sexuality as one of her favorite courses for being “really honest.” And she credits her instructors — Jen Frickey and Beth Ellis — for making her feel really comfortable.
Star is excited that Eagle Rock let her graduate high school in three years. She plans to get her piercer’s license and live in Fort Collins, Colo.
From Sun Valley, Calif., Lesly DeLeon heard about Eagle Rock after dropping out of her local softball team and starting work at a park. Miguel Flores, a parent of former and current Eagle Rock students, asked Lesly about herself and what was going on with her.
“I ignored his advice at first, but a couple of months later I called him,” Lesly admitted. “I was tired of disappointing my parents and tired of disappointing myself. I wasn’t going somewhere good. I needed a fresh start.”
Between moving to a new place and the stresses at home, Lesly wasn’t sure she would make it through her first trimester. It was hard being away from her family and the people she loved, but her dad gave her advice that helped her stick it out.
“My dad told me I needed to stay strong,” she said. “And he reminded me that I needed to do this for myself.”
Eventually, Lesly came to thrive at Eagle Rock and developed into a leader on campus.
“I came here one person and I’m leaving a different woman,” Lesly explained. “A lot of the stuff I’ve done here I never would’ve imagined — the values it’s taught me, the classes, the people.”
She points to Jon Anderson and Jesse Beightol — both Human Performance/Outdoor Education (HPOE) Instructional Specialists — as “the reason I hold myself to such high standards.” Lesly excelled in HPOE initiatives on campus. She regularly attended and sometimes led the on-campus Crossfit workouts, and she earned a scholarship to go on a two-week horse-packing trip with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) during her graduating trimester.
After graduation, Lesly is going to be with family in Mexico for a couple of months. After that, she wants to get her certification as a Crossfit trainer and is considering community college and joining the U.S. Air Force.
Raised by his mother in Bridgeport, Conn., Jeremy Coles found himself skipping class in high school and getting suspended on a regular basis. When his guidance counselor suggested Eagle Rock, he was initially doubtful.
“What really motivated me was when I saw a picture of the basketball court on the Internet,” Jeremy said, smiling.
Once he arrived at Eagle Rock, Jeremy said he began to rely on, “not being a person who gives up.” He also credits support from Susan Luna, the director of operations, and students Derik Bernardez and Jaliza Perez.
Like Lesly, Jeremy also found his niche in the HPOE department. He learned how to ski with Jon’s Winter Ecology class and developed his rock climbing skills with Jesse in Colorado Rocks. After Eagle Rock, he will complete a five-week internship with Rocky Mountain National Park.
Nicole “Nikki” Bau wasn’t learning critical thinking at her old high school, which she saw as a “fashion show.” Born in Melbourne, Australia, Nikki grew up in Colorado and wanted more from her education.
“I liked the mountains and the opportunities available here,” Nikki explained.
She came in to Eagle Rock at the relatively “late” age of 19, graduating within the minimum six trimesters. She said she learned a lot from the experiential and personal growth curricula, and she sees Research and Science of Strength as her two most influential courses.
“Research helped me develop my writing and Science of Strength tested my mental and physical capabilities in stressful times,” Nikki explained.
Outside of class, she looked up to Karen Ikegami, Eagle Rock’s former math instructional specialist, who took her rock climbing and helped her get a job at a farm over the break. She also learned a lot from traveling and working with the Professional Development Center staff when they went on the road to work in Vermont.
“I got to work with English teachers at South Burlington High School and facilitate conversations with their community,” she said. “It taught me that if you advocate for yourself, you can go great places.”
Growing up in and out of foster care in the San Francisco Bay area, Tiffany Wright heard about Eagle Rock from a counselor at her group home.
“It was kind of the last option for me,” Tiffany explained. “It was either Eagle Rock, juvenile hall, or an all-girl’s boarding school in Mississippi.”
The transition was tough for Tiffany, and she struggled until she saw one of her mentors graduate.
“I came in with a super bad attitude. I was used to hanging out with my type of people, so expanding myself and getting to know other people was really hard for me,” Tiffany admits. “Seeing my friend Sandra graduate was a life-changing experience. She was one of my closest allies. When I saw her up there, it motivated me to do good and step up.”
Tiffany also looked up to a trio of female staff members — Berta Gullen, former Societies & Cultures instructional specialist, Jen Frickey, director of curriculum, and Karen Ikegami.
“They’ve influenced a lot of my decisions and saved me from some life-changing mistakes,” Tiffany said. “They’ve all been like a mother to me.”
In her three-and-a-half years here, Tiffany made the most of the opportunities the school offers. Like Nikki, she cites Research as a course that “expanded my mind.” She also visited the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, went rock climbing in Wyoming, paddled the Green River in Utah, and explored Colorado with the People & Places class.
“I kind of grew into myself here,” Tiffany said. “I came in at 16, young and naive, and I had my 17th, 18th and 19th birthdays here. And because I was around amazing people, I grew up as a woman.”
After graduation, Tiffany is deciding between staying in Colorado or moving to be with family in Mississippi. She intends to go to college in the fall.
Jessy Mejia grew up in Southern California in a “small house with a lot of people.” He lived with 11 relatives, including his parents, siblings, grandmother, and uncle. His cousin told him about Eagle Rock, and Jessy thought it would be a good way to get away from Long Beach and create better opportunities for himself.
Coming from a beach city and adapting to living in the mountains was challenging. He also had to adjust to curfew, not being able to go into other people’s houses, and other Eagle Rock restrictions. Like others, Jessy saw building relationships as one of the hardest and best parts of the Eagle Rock experience. Jessy really thrived, however, when he entered the classroom.
“Classes were really entertaining and I liked them,” Jessy explained. “These classes aren’t traditional but you can get a lot out of them.”
He made the most of outdoor opportunities, both in and out of classes, enjoying that more than he expected. To cap his academic career, Jessy co-taught the Life Skills course during his final trimester. He plans to go to college this fall in Southern California.
“The struggle is real,” Jessy reflected, “but you can always come out on top.”
Like Jeremy, Jaliza Perez grew up in Bridgeport, Conn., and heard about Eagle Rock from the same guidance counselor. After attending a private school and doing well, Jaliza struggled in her new school.
“I thought public school was a zoo, and so I never really went,” she explained.
She came to Eagle Rock unprepared for Wilderness, sharing living space, and living in the mountains. After adjusting to those realities, she realized that “the positives outweigh the negatives” and found several ways to stay engaged. She considers her relationship with her advisor, Denise Lord, the Life After Eagle Rock instructional specialist, as particularly meaningful.
“I feel like when I first got here I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone, and I didn’t really look up to staff,” Jaliza said. “Once I built my relationship with Denise, that changed. She’s a strong woman, and she’s going to be that mirror for me; she’s not afraid to tell me ‘what you said wasn’t right.’ ”
She also built strong relationships with other staff members, including Holly Takashima, the former Language & Literacy instructional specialist, and her other advisor, Calvin King, Societies & Cultures Fellow and Eagle Rock graduate.
In addition, Jaliza stepped up to the plate, taking over the student mentor/mentee program for incoming students.
“When I came in, I didn’t have the support that I needed,” Jaliza said. “I wanted to make sure that all the new students had the support that I didn’t have. I just really enjoy working with people my age and younger than me who are struggling, because I know what that’s like. I learned and grew so much from every student group that came in, and they taught me a lot about myself as a leader, a facilitator and a learner.”
Jaliza participated in the Rocky Mountain National Park class and did a five-week internship in the park last summer. She used that experience to teach the class to different students this winter.
Upon graduation, Jaliza said she’ll be starting an apprenticeship with Public Allies in Los Angeles doing community-based work.
Please help us in congratulating these fantastic Eagle Rock School graduates. Use the Comment section below to leave words of congratulations, advice, encouragement and more!
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