Sunday profile: Two caps, two gowns — Glenwood Springs student is a dual graduate
Clark Windmueller speaks three languages, but one’s first impression is that he is quiet.
The descriptor “quiet” should be modified with “very” repeated a number of times, according to his high school principal, Paul Freeman.
But, as reserved as Clark is in person, his life so far is anything but ordinary.
He’s a tall, blond high school senior, played as a tight end for the Demons football team, and when he walks the stage at Glenwood Springs High School next Saturday to receive his diploma, it will be his second commencement ceremony in one month.
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Windmueller already was awarded his associate’s degree from Colorado Mountain College earlier in May, thanks to the Roaring Fork School District’s dual-enrollment program.
college by middle school
“In middle school, I was a little bit bored and wanted something more challenging,” Windmueller said.
For middle school, he was attending what is now Liberty Classical Academy in New Castle, a part-time program that leaves ample time during the week for homeschooling and other projects.
His mother, Suzanne W. Kirch, was an adjunct professor with CMC that year, and encouraged Windmueller to take the ACCUPLACER test and apply for college classes.
His first class at CMC was English composition, and his professor worried that an eighth grader might not be mature enough.
Those fears were alleviated after the first essays were graded, and Windmueller received the only A in the class for that assignment.
CMC provided the challenge Windmueller was looking for, and once he figured out it was possible to earn an associate’s degree while in high school, he continued.
Throughout high school, Windmueller’s schedule was roughly the same. “In the mornings I would take classes at the school and in the afternoons I would go to CMC, or vice versa,” Windmueller said.
He loaded his spring semesters with CMC classes so he would have time to play football in the fall.
The one exception was Windmueller’s Rotary Youth Exchange trip to Columbia his junior year. Windmueller only took one online CMC class that year. On the weekends, they would do service projects in poor Columbian communities. He also became fluent in Spanish.
Windmueller didn’t feel that his high school classes were academically beneath him. “They were still challenging, and I had a lot of good teachers,” he said.
His mom wanted to provide Windmueller and his younger brother, Finn, with options in their education that didn’t force them into a single box.
“I just think it’s valuable to have options in education. Sometimes, the one-size fits, other times it just doesn’t,” Kirch said.
For Windmueller, the hybrid path was difficult but eventually paid off, she said, because he was academically challenged and still had the opportunity to play football and be with friends.
Going to school for gap year
Windmueller has not yet selected a college to attend for his next degree. As he does every summer, Windmueller will travel Germany, where he lived until he was 5, to spend time with his father and half-siblings. He’ll take a gap year and hopes to start college in the U.S. in 2020.
Many European and Americans students who take a year off between high school and college use it to travel, but Windmueller will enroll for a semester in the University of Jordan.
Why would he go to school during a gap year?
“I’m going to try and learn Arabic, and go back to Germany to help refugees there,” Windmueller said.
Already fluent in German and English, “if I could learn Arabic, I would be especially well-suited to help [refugees] assimilate,” Windmueller explained.
Germany has taken in more than a million refugees since 2015, mostly from war-torn Muslim countries, and their stories resonate with Windmueller because his grandfather was forced to flee his village in Germany after it was destroyed during Allied bombing campaigns.
“When Windmueller started hearing about the refugees in Germany, he immediately wanted to help them in some capacity,” Suzanne said.
GSHS Principal Paul Freeman said he didn’t know Windmueller as well as he would like, but praised the senior’s scholarship (“He’s not the top student, but very close to the top”) and admired his accomplishments.
“Here’s what I love about students like Windmueller: They take an original path through the world,” Freeman said. “They don’t look around and imitate what other people do, and they don’t limit themselves by traditions or normality or other people’s expectations.
“It’s people like Windmueller who have an original approach when they go out into the world. And when they make their contribution, it tends to be exceptional.
“I think we’ll hear about him in the future and we’ll be very impressed by what he does,” Freeman said.
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Scott Ely founded Sunsense Solar 30 years and initially operated as a one-man crew. His focus was installing solar electric systems on backwoods cabins off the grid. Now the company’s work includes some of the biggest solar farms in the region.