Snowy Peaks provides nontraditional route across graduation finish line | SummitDaily.com

Snowy Peaks provides nontraditional route across graduation finish line

Tired of the two years sleeping on a couch in her mother's home — tired of a number of family challenges that led her to drop out of high school — Dymond DeBlanc packed up with her fiancé and left her lifelong home of Houston, Texas, for Summit County.

The landing was not particularly soft. The couple arrived with $500 to their names and were quickly running through their resources despite living out of their van. DeBlanc found blue-collar work, but she couldn't help but regret her decision to forgo a high school education back in Texas.

"My grades started going down from being so stressed out," said DeBlanc. "After a while I just couldn't do it. Then after everything happened, I've been here since."

Bouncing between gigs in fast food and other low-paying service positions, DeBlanc, now 19 years old and living out of a hotel in Silverthorne, dreamed of finishing high school to chase a career in medicine. A chance interaction led to her hearing about Snowy Peaks High School, and, one year later, on Thursday evening she'll walk across the stage at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge with 17 of her peers to receive a diploma.

“I am here as late as the latest student who needs to be here today until we finish everything. No questions about it, everyone is getting that diploma.”Jim SmithSnowy Peaks principal

DeBlanc, whose full name is Dymond Champayne Porche' DeBlanc, isn't the rule for who attends the Summit School District's nontraditional high school, but she's also not necessarily the exception. The blended-learning program, mixing in-class instruction with an online computer curriculum, helps personalize the learning experience and gives those who need it a second and third chance to complete their secondary education.

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"Dymond is certainly as unique — and as awesome — as her name," said Jim Smith, principal of the school. "I can't imagine, at her age, that I'd have had the motivation to overcome those types of obstacles. But we're not like any other school you'll ever walk into. We are pretty darn unique, and it's working, and we meet all the requirements of the state's standardized stuff."

Wrapping up its sixth year, Snowy Peaks is situated in a handful of classroom spaces on the northwest side of Summit Middle School in Frisco. The primary learning area is open, includes several couches, high-top workspaces and nearly every student with their head buried in a laptop. It's this approach that offers a different course of study to those who never quite connected with conventional lesson plans and lecture.

"After I started going to school here, it was the first time in my life I was actually learning," said Alex Vogen, one of three juniors who will graduate from the program Thursday. "I was actually getting stuff done; I was answering questions because I knew that that was the answer and wasn't guessing, which was basically my whole life when it came to testing. It's just so much better, there's so many more opportunities and learning capabilities."

Vogen, 17, attended Summit High School after moving to the area with her mom and stepfather from the Minneapolis area three years earlier when they felt a move would be positive. Her grandmother back home became sick not long after, however, and she was forced to miss months of school and briefly attend one back in Minnesota in the interim while she assisted her family through the process.

When Vogen eventually returned to Summit, she was met with the news she'd graduate a year behind due to all of the lost credits. Soon after settling into Snowy Peaks to see if an alternate model might be just the solution, her grandfather also became ill, forcing the family back north once more. His eventual passing was difficult on them all, but when she returned she was not met with the customary response she'd heard before.

"Each teacher sat down with me on an emotional level and was really nice to me," said Vogen. "They all really do care around here. I was going to graduate a whole year late and not go to college, and now I'm graduating a whole year early and I'm going to four years of college, which I never wanted to go to."

Like many of its students, Snowy Peaks has run into some stumbling blocks over the course of its existence, with the state labeling it a turnaround school in 2015 based on dropout rates and substandard test scores. Because the program's enrollment hovers between 50 and 60 students, the education standards suitable for most public schools do not fit the parameters of its specialized curriculum, regardless of its strong graduation and assessment numbers. Smith appealed the ranking, though, and earlier this academic year the state agreed and gave Snowy Peaks its highest accreditation rating.

The time Smith, who is completing his third year at the helm of Snowy Peaks, and his staff put in to help is unquestioned and often makes the difference for students. When DeBlanc, for instance, was forced to miss a month of classes due to a hectic work schedule as a gas station clerk working back-to-back weekend graveyard shifts and needed to get back to hitting the books on a Sunday last week, Smith opened up the school and guided a small group through last-minute lessons to assist each one across the finish line.

"I've already made my arrangements," Smith announced to his soon-to-be graduates Wednesday morning. "I am here as late as the latest student who needs to be here today until we finish everything. No questions about it, everyone is getting that diploma."

Aside from committing to a student portfolio, which includes components like community service hours, a student project and a job shadow, Snowy Peaks requires each graduate apply to a college. Vogen will now attend Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs on a four-year scholarship, and DeBlanc plans to attend CMC in Summit County before pursuing a degree in biology at a four-year university.

For Vogen and DeBlanc — as well as the many students before and the many who will come after — Snowy Peaks has meant the world to their lives, even if there have been several bumps along the road.

"Oh God, 13-plus years in this, it gets a little exhausting," said DeBlanc. "But toward the end you're just like, 'Hey, at least you got through it.' I honestly can't believe I'm actually getting it done. I have finally made it."

SNOWY PEAKS HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF 2017:

Armando Adan

Maxwell James Boothby

Eduardo Jose Bucio

Jacques Todd Caldwell Jr.

Acsiri Jimena Campos Palacios

Susan M. Castanon

Stephane De Los Santos Torruco

Dymond Champayne Porche’ DeBlanc

Jezarel Kiani Diaz

Brian Gallegos Frausto

Jacob Andrew Lang

Marisol Loya

Alycia Dawn Mugan

Conor William Negri

Moses Rodriguez Arredondo

Edgar Rodriquez

Reyes Rodriguez Valenzuela

Alex J. Vogen

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