Yampah graduation a celebration of uniqueness
Justice Bouchet could have donned the ceremonial cap and gown after her junior year, having earned enough credits through the traditional high school system to graduate early. She decided to use her senior year to spread her wings at Yampah Mountain High School instead.
It was a year of “unschooling,” as she describes in her student portfolio — the personalized, student-driven model used by the alternative high school, based in Glenwood Springs but serving students in four public school districts from Aspen to Parachute, to measure academic progress and accomplishments.
The term, “unschooling,” came from a book Bouchet had read. It ended up being the motivation she needed to take her secondary education to another level.
“Intrigued, I wondered if I could transform my last year of high school, which up until that point I solidly hated, into something extraordinary,” she wrote. “So many doors were opened … and I was able to experiment with my interests, launch many new personal projects and accomplish things I never thought possible.”
Among her accomplishments was making a big splash at this year’s Carbondale Arts Green is the New Black fashion show, for which she designed and hand made six ornate animal masks that were used by the fashion models. She also developed an autobiographical comic book character and learned Aikido, classical guitar, metal working and jewelry design through Colorado Mountain College.
“This wave will not be kept upon the shore,” one of Bouchet’s Yampah advisors, Lisa Doherty, noted during the school’s graduation ceremonies held at the Orchard church in Carbondale Friday morning.
A total of 68 Yampah graduates turned their tassels this year, ranging from young mothers and fathers in the teen parent program, to troubled students who wanted a second chance at making it in high school, to those who just needed something a little different than traditional public high school.
“I’m so thankful for all of you that helped me through so much,” graduate Katharine Cone-Brown said during the senior comments portion of the ceremony, where all graduates are given a chance to say a few words.
More than a “rite of passage,” Cone-Brown said the chance to graduate high school was “truly a gift” made possible by Yampah after she had made some “unfortunate choices” in her young life.
“I just want to thank Yampah for giving me a new chance of hope,” Jeffrey Telles-Ramos, a graduate from Yampah’s Project Rebound special education program, said before his fellow graduates and Yampah faculty.
Graduate Hugh Sorensen told the story of being advised by his traditional high school counselors to consider getting his GED instead of staying in school.
“I told them, ‘No, I want to go to Yampah, and I want my diploma,’” Sorensen said. “It’s called an alternative school, but it’s more personalized than that. You’re made to feel like an owner in the school.”
Giving the commencement address was 2010 Yampah alumnus Kevin Atchison, who as a student in the teen parent program helped form the school’s first leadership program.
“At Yampah, I learned how to think, I learned how to love, and I learned how to grow,” said Atchison, who was joined on stage by his now middle-school-aged daughter, Alice.
“Yampah gives you the opportunity to take your education and put it into practical lessons that you are going to use later in life — seven years later to be exact,” he said of his own situation. Atchison recently became a licensed real estate agent.
Melissa Miller, who gave the invocation to start the graduation ceremony, offered a few words of encouragement for the 13 graduates in Yampah’s teen parent program
“You can do anything you want to do,” she said. “It may take you a little longer, and it will certainly not be easy. But you can do it; not only for you, but for the little ones that sit in your lap.”
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