A self-described troublemaker, Adrian Munoz started high school on the wrong path – but the result of his choices has become his inspiration.
“The things I did were mistakes, but the things that came out of it were beautiful,” the Poudre Global Academy (PGA) senior said.
Munoz is a father of two and part of the Teen Parenting program at PGA. Munoz credits Melissa Schaefer, coordinator of the district program, for helping him stay on track to graduate.
“Adrian is a remarkable human. He works hard at everything he does,”
“I would really like to thank her. I hope one day I can pay her back,” he said. “The teachers here are really amazing – they really focus on you.”
“Adrian is a remarkable human. He works hard at everything he does,” Schaefer said. “As a young father with a lot on his plate, he appreciates the importance of his education.”
“They helped me a lot with my kids, which encouraged me to come back to school,” he said. “I felt like I had to do everything alone. I was mostly focused on money because I didn’t feel like I had enough to feed my kid. I thought all I could do was work.”
Although Munoz still works while he is in school, he is also taking classes at Front Range Community College (FRCC). He has an insatiable love for cars and a natural aptitude to fix engines. Finding his passion in automotive technology made learning fun. Munoz completed both the FRCC Automotive Program and Aviation Pathway through Futures Lab.
But when the pandemic hit, Munoz had to set up his school space in his crowded home. He didn’t have a desk. Learning began on his bed and sometimes ended in him “spacing out” – not the ideal situation for a student who learns best with his hands.
"It was really frustrating for me,” he said. “When I was at Front Range, I was learning about the electronics of the cars – that’s hard for me, I learn better when I'm touching things.”
As he tried his best, he was able to find a way to tune out the distractions, keep his mind quiet and stay focused.
While exploring his passion in mechanics drives him forward, Munoz said his almost 2-year-old daughter Lorena, month-old son Noah and his fiancée help him stay on track.
“My future, what I have planned out for the kids, that’s what’s really pushing me,” he said. “I’m doing everything for them. All this hard work is going to pay off when I see them graduating. I want to tell (my daughter) that I did.”
Munoz plans on earning an Automotive Technology degree from FRCC, become a mechanic and eventually open his own garage.
“That’s when I can really enjoy being with my family and have the time of my life,” he said. “I want to have time with my kids.”
Ruth Regalado does not know exactly how she will change the world, but she knows she wants to be able to help people and her community. This could be achieved by becoming a lawyer or a nurse, two possible futures Regalado has in sight.
Reflecting on the past year, the Poudre Community Academy senior considers her experiences to be surreal – marked by triumphs she did not expect. And this spring, she will walk across the stage as a proud member of the Class of 2021.
In 2019, Regalado started in PCA’s Journey Program, designed to support students who have been expelled. Learning the value of the program, she decided to continue her education at PCA, supported by champions like her parents, PCA Counselor Janie Wald and Madison Brinnon, a PCA substitute teacher.
“Always strive in school, whether it is easy or challenging.”
This year, she took Cultural Anthropology and English courses at Front Range Community College (FRCC), something she did not imagine was possible without Wald’s support. Regalado said Wald “went out of her way to check on me and inform me about things like scholarships. She is always there when I need her.”
She plans to attend FRCC after graduation from PSD and transfer to Colorado State University, once she decides what to study. Exploring the social sciences is appealing, and she thinks being a paralegal would be “cool.”
Her home space at school is what’s called the “lab,” a computer space where students can work on homework or study. Regalado spends most of her time there. At home, she enjoys working in her bedroom where she loves “the vibes I get.”
In her free time, she enjoys acrylic art, photography, being in nature and hanging out with her friends. Some of her favorite subjects in school include Philosophy, college Algebra and Art. Regalado is also a hard worker, who is employed in the food industry and considers herself a busy body.
“I love to work and be consistently on my feet,” she said.
During COVID, she challenged herself to do things she never thought she would accomplish.
“Always strive in school, whether it is easy or challenging,” she said. Simply put, COVID was hard. “I hated it so much” she said. “I hated the fact that you had to stay home and not interact with people, it was really difficult.”
With her support system, however, she pushed through the tough time and persevered.
Edwar Lopez Mendez
For Edwar Lopez Mendez, this school year was dichotomous.
In one sense, it was relaxing for the Fort Collins High School senior to take his classes online and “be comfortable at home.” But he also felt anxious amid all the changes – particularly because this is his last year of high school.
Originally from Quetzaltenango, a large city in the mountains of Guatemala, Lopez Mendez joined the Fort Collins High School (FCHS) Newcomer Program in spring 2018. He has since excelled in the program designed to support students who are adjusting to high school in the U.S. and learning English, in addition to the one or more languages in which they are already fluent.
“I entered the program when Mr. Daniel Gallegos was teaching. He helped counsel me” he said. “I like the Newcomer Program because it has helped me learn English. I have a lot of friends in the Newcomer Program, and many others are from Guatemala like me.”
“Edwar is a resilient student. He has shown motivation and dedication to graduating this year. I have been humbled by Edwar's story,”
COVID-19 posed difficulties for the senior. In facet of those challenges, however, Lopez Mendez attended FCHS’ Remote Learning Support Center and school to stay on top of his education. And his work hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Edwar is a resilient student. He has shown motivation and dedication to graduating this year. I have been humbled by Edwar's story,” said Lauren Porter, a teacher of Lopez Mendez’s.
Lopez Mendez described his home space at school as FHCS Family Liaison Ms. Blanca Mael’s office, a great place for him to rest and take a break. PSD family liaisons bridge home and school communication for families of students learning English, assisting with oral interpretation and translations of educational information sent home, and encouraging family engagement in their student’s learning. He is excited to finish high school and credits Blanca with supporting him “a lot in that goal.” After high school, Lopez Mendez plans to continue learning English through classes at Front Range Community College. He will also work in carpentry, specifically doing cabinetry work in Loveland.
“Edwar, believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle. Remember if you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. if you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place,” Mael said.
He also dreams of being a soccer player, a lifelong pursuit. “I want to travel to other countries in South America and continue to enjoy my life every day,” said the multi-talented player, who plays in all positions but enjoys being a goalie and forward the most.
At one point back in Guatemala, he wanted to be a P.E. teacher because he loves sports and learning about them. He hoped to channel that passion and share it with others, particularly high school students. “Someday I may still pursue that passion to be a P.E. teacher,” he said.
Milo Telling loves art – it's something he’s always been passionate about and something through which he hopes to change the world and inspire others.
From photography and cooking, to painting, sketching and more, he enjoys it all. Portraits bring him special joy because they can capture people’s facial expressions. Telling also likes to paint landscapes with gouache, an art form mixing watercolors and acrylics.
“Ever since I was a kid, I would draw my family and build little cities in my room. It always stuck with me,” he said. Telling was recently accepted at Colorado State University, into the Psychology program. He dreams of later becoming an art therapist.
This past year, Telling learned that “I should rely on my resources and support system.”
His home space at school is teacher Shauna Anderson’s French room. “She is my main inspiration; she is why I get things done; she is the coolest teacher out there,” Telling said.
“Ever since I was a kid, I would draw my family and build little cities in my room. It always stuck with me,”
Another one of Telling’s support people is his twin, Maxine Telling, who is in the same grade and homeroom. By spending more time with his family, Telling also learned how important family is to him – and how helpful they can be – particularly during times of adversity.
Things were bad for his family when COVID hit. Some people in his life were at higher risk for COVID-19, and that meant more time apart. It was hard not to see them, he said.
“But it was a growing opportunity for me because I learned how to preserve through the struggle,” he said.
Anderson met Milo her first year at Polaris, when he hung out in her room during lunch and after school to practice French. He always shared fun French videos and short films that Anderson showed to her students.
“Milo is super intelligent, humble, very artistic creative and kind. He gives me great hope for the future. The future is good with people like Milo.”
Competitive swimmer and Poudre Global Academy senior Julia Petrino’s home at school is in her mother’s classroom.
“I spent a lot of time in her classroom with my friends, talking and eating lunch. It was a safe space for us to relax,” said Petrino, whose interests include photography and writing. Petrino enjoys all types of photography, but she specifically likes landscapes because of the added adventure of traveling with her friends to capture the beauty of the outdoors. She writes a lot of fiction and loves the journalistic writing style.
“At school, my home space was an escape from my life, which constantly revolves around swimming and school. I was able to take my mind off my life,” she said.
“You have to make the most of the moment right now because everything can change in an instant,”
This year has been unique and unpredictable for Petrino. COVID-19 changed everything for her. At first, it was a nice break from her life to relax, but it quickly turned into a new obstacle. She learned how to adapt rapidly to an ever-changing environment. She also learned that nothing is absolute.
“You have to make the most of the moment right now because everything can change in an instant,” she said. Petrino participates in online learning, which was a tough adjustment, but Petrino said her teachers were incredible and made it work for her.
Petrino swims freestyle distance events, such as the 200-yard, 500-yard and mile. She also swims the 200 butterfly.
Petrino plans to study English and swim at Smith College next fall. Her future home is Northampton, Massachusetts, and she will bring with her the grit she learned during the pandemic. “I will remember that I can make it through any tough time if I persevere. I also want to remember that I must be grateful for every experience I am given and take advantage of all that I can.”
Petrino wants to change the world by making it a more accepting space for everyone. Creating a place where everyone is safe to express themselves, however they want.
Brooke Seckman, a senior at Centennial High School, has always loved science. She feels at home at school in any science classroom – which represents not only a place where she furthered her education but also one where she gained the most knowledge about herself and her interests.
Seckman is specifically interested in anatomy, as well as helping others. Her science teacher inspired and supported her to study more about her passions. She is currently obtaining her EMT certification to advance her medical knowledge. After completing it, she plans to attend Colorado State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Fire and Emergency Services Administration. Her ultimate dream is to utilize that knowledge and become a firefighter.
When the pandemic hit, it brought a scary transition in Seckman’s personal and student life. COVID-19 taught her how to appreciate the little and larger things in life.
“One lesson I will be taking away from this past year is acknowledging and recognizing what I do have, instead of searching for what I do not need,”
“At Centennial l, we thrive as a community. And when our community was taken away, I struggled to stay positive in a learning environment where I was taught in my bedroom,” she said. As the year progressed, Seckman had to reshape how she learned in order to succeed.
This year was transformational. Seckman was able to grow and overcome her obstacles. “One lesson I will be taking away from this past year is acknowledging and recognizing what I do have, instead of searching for what I do not need,” she said.
She plans to change the world by actively participating in a workforce that helps and supports others.
“How you treat anyone, is how you treat everyone, and if you have the chance to expand your kindness, knowledge and willingness to help others, then you can and will make a difference in someone’s life,” said Seckman.
Johnathan Tilman, better known as “JT,” earned the title of small business owner before the title of high school graduate.
The Fort Collins High School senior started his own candle business, JT's Fire, in 2020. Every day, he sells and makes a product that he loves.
His home away from home at school is the art room, where he can enjoy the creative process and works with his art pals. Passionate about crafting just about anything, Tilman builds Technic Legos and builds cities in the computer game Minecraft. He also enjoys cooking, baking, drawing, bowling, mini golf, traveling, and hanging out with his family and friends.
“I think I talk to more people now than before because I use Zoom a lot,”
Thankful for his friendships, Tilman said, “I always want to maintain them no matter what else is going on in my life.”
Tilman was ready for a break from school when COVID-19 hit. He loved spending more time at home. “I think I talk to more people now than before because I use Zoom a lot,” he said. This year was a time of building connections and creation for Tilman.
He intends to leave his mark by sharing joy and appreciation with others.
“I hope to bring beauty to their world” Tilman said, desiring to get stronger and help others grow stronger too. “That is a big dream for me.”
Paige Hill is eagerly waiting to study pre-medicine at the University of Utah next year. At that point, the senior, who likes to draw, work out and learn new medical knowledge in her free time, will move to her future home in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The agriculture rooms have been her home-away-from-home at school. She spent the past four years involved with the Future Farmers of America (FFA).
“I feel I get the guidance and help that I need, along with amazing support in those rooms,” she said, “I feel safe and welcomed there.”
This past year has been powerful and surreal for Hill. A lesson she learned is that you should not settle for anything less than what you want – and work for what you want. Good things in life are not going to be given or handed to you all the time, you have to work for what you want. Another lesson she learned is that you should not let the little things in life change the perspective of your day, week, month, or even year. There are always going to be hard times and challenges, but you do not have to let these obstacles bring you down. Keep striving and push for more.
“I had to learn how to teach myself and become more responsible with my learning,”
When COVID hit last year, it was a really hard time in Hill’s life. She is a very social person and like many she enjoys spending time with her friends and being active. Hill had to stay home and quarantine with her family because her dad is a first responder. Although this year was very hard, and she struggled throughout it there are some important lessons that she learned such as the situation will always turn out to be how your attitude is towards the situation.
“When I had a negative attitude towards having to be locked in a house with my family the experience turned out to be negative and I was torturing myself through it all. But once my attitude changed to a more positive view, I was able to grow a stronger connection with my family members and enjoy the time that I had with them,” she said. Doing school online has changed how she viewed school as a priority in her life. “I had to learn how to teach myself and become more responsible with my learning,” Hill said.
She plans to change the world by becoming the best surgeon that she can be. “I am going to show people that if you put your mind to something that you can make it happen no matter who doubted you along the way,” she said, “I will show people that you can take a small dream and make it a reality with hard work and dedication.”
Willow Duran has been a remote student all year. The senior at Polaris Expeditionary Learning School and crime fiction fanatic took solace in the books, movies, and podcasts she enjoyed. These forms of entertainment provided a temporary escape from reality to a new world.
“I do not think I could talk about my high school experience without talking about how much the pandemic has impacted me and shaped me as a learner,” Duran said.
When COVID-19 first hit she felt overwhelmed. She shared a room with her sister, meaning limited space and a hinderance to her focus on schoolwork. Duran decided to develop habits for her day to feel structured and productive.
“As someone who has always been detached from school, this massive change this year caused a 180-degree transformation. School has become one of my main focuses”
For example, Duran taped a paper on her wall each Sunday on which she mapped out schoolwork for the week and set a specific amount of work to do before she could stop. She woke up at 7:30 a.m. each morning and worked through her routine to be motivated. Doing so helped her stay on top of her classwork, and her grades are better this year than ever before.
“As someone who has always been detached from school, this massive change this year caused a 180-degree transformation. School has become one of my main focuses” she said. In the face of a challenging year, Duran remained resilient.
Duran has come to understand that you should be kind to yourself and realizes that not everyone’s journey looks the same. The struggle and achievements that she faced do not make her experience any more or less valid than others.
She is planning to attend Colorado Mesa University in the fall to study Criminology and Psychology, with aspirations to be a criminal profiler. She eventually wants to work in Washington state or somewhere along the East Coast.
By spreading positivity and compassion in her everyday life, she will change the world.
“I want to be a person to make someone's day better through a simple interaction – like complimenting their outfit at the grocery store,” she said.
Rocky Mountain High School senior Elise Smets is the kind of young woman who considers making people feel safe as a peer mentor at her school.
In her role as a peer mentor, Smets is often surrounded and supported by people who have similar interests in mental health. Peer mentors are students who are educated in diversity, and mental health and sexual assault awareness. The students give presentations on these topics to other students to bring awareness to their peers. The peer mentors also mentor students who are struggling in a plethora of life experiences.
“being alone can serve for self-reflection and growth,”
In addition to her strong interpersonal skills, Smets is also an art lover. For AP Art this year, she spent a lot of time in the art hall focusing on her watercolor and acrylic paintings – often portraying people in abstracts. At one point, she made a lot of paintings to share her story on losing her hearing and what it meant to her.
“Rocky has amazing art teachers and students, and I love being surrounded by that energy,” Smets said. Being in the Art Department has given her the opportunity to create art and observe others as they do so, as well.
This year has been unpredictable for Smets. Her family had to overcome their own challenges with COVID-19, including unemployment and isolation. Through it all, she learned that “being alone can serve for self-reflection and growth,” which Smets feels she experienced this past year.
Now, as she wraps up her high school career, she’s pursuing her dreams by attending the University of Wyoming to study psychology and possibly criminal justice. She plans to work in a field where she can study and support individuals who might struggle with mental health challenges.
Eager to have a career where she can help others, she wants to change the world by researching mental health to help save lives.
Tia Randazzo has learned that it’s okay to have bad days – on those days, you learn lessons and grow for the future. And with the right support, you can push through when things get hard.
That is something the Poudre Community Academy senior learned when COVID-19 hit and her mental health was at an all-time low. She was not engaged in school and felt hopeless. She lacked motivation.
“It is okay to have bad days and not feel 100% great all the time,” Randazzo said. “My counselor taught me that doing what you love is more important than doing what is normal.”
“My counselor taught me that doing what you love is more important than doing what is normal.”
Randazzo was thankful for the support she received last year from her math teacher. “She would always check up on me and see how I was doing. From being a confidante to a teacher, she was always outgoing and empathetic towards me.“My counselor taught me that doing what you love is more important than doing what is normal.”
Her counselor, Janie Wald, also constantly reached out to her, asking about her interest in competitive cheerleading. Wald’s office became her home at school. It’s where she felt safe.
“This year, cheer has been different than all other years. We were on and off, and our season was delayed. Fortunately, we were able to compete,” Randazzo said. “When taking breaks during COVID, it was hard for me. But I am happy that I got to experience being on the mat for one last time.”
Next year, Randazzo’s new home away from home will become Front Range Community College, where she will study nursing. Upon her college graduation, Randazzo plans to become a nurse in a psychiatric unit at a hospital.
Drawing from her own experiences, Randazzo plans to change the world by spreading awareness of mental health and providing resources to those who are struggling.
When COVID-19 hit, everything was shut down and everything looked different with online schooling for Fossil Ridge High School senior Michael Dolgosh.
Dolgosh loves playing the guitar and listening to music. These hobbies have brought him solace, and the gym also served as a place of refuge during COVID-19. In his own words, the past year was both “terrible” and “fantastic.”
“the nicest kid you will ever meet. He may be quiet and soft-spoken, but he is humble and kind.”
Chris Savage, Fossil Ridge High School counselor, described Dolgosh as “the nicest kid you will ever meet. He may be quiet and soft-spoken, but he is humble and kind.” Savage is one among Dolgosh’s supporters, who also include his sister, case manager and mother, Brandy Dolgosh.
Brandy is so proud of him and his perseverance through an exceedingly difficult time. The senior has an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, and worked hard to do more than hang on. Now, she said, he’s thriving in his classes.
Dolgosh is looking forward to going to South Dakota State University in the fall to study animal sciences. It also brings him happiness to think about working over the summer for Robertson Harness, where he builds harnesses for ziplines.