Snowy Peaks High held graduation ceremony for 16 students on Thursday | SummitDaily.com

Snowy Peaks High held graduation ceremony for 16 students on Thursday

Sixteen graduates from Snowy Peaks High School crossed the stage at the Silverthorne Pavilion on Thursday into futures full of hope and promise. Snowy Peaks is a non-traditional high school that emphasizes innovative, student-centered learning for those who want an alternative educational experience.

Snowy Peaks principal Jim Smith said he could not be prouder of the Class of 2018 and the people they've become.

"I can say with confidence that graduates we handed diplomas to have the skillsets to go on and do great things," Smith said. "As an educator and principal what you hope for most, that you give the students the tools to succeed."

Behavior specialist Mindy Regner quoted Smith in saying that the school's guiding principle is to "Lead with love, end with hope," where students are welcomed when they arrive and given a high-five or a hug when they leave. She described how Snowy Peaks' graduation ceremony reflected the uniqueness of the school.

"Snowy Peaks is a very small school, with 64 students and 16 graduates in May," Regner said. "The ceremony is so incredibly different from bigger schools, as it has more of a family feel. Students tell their stories about how they got there, get handed a diploma, and each graduate receives a rose to give to somebody who has made their diploma possible like a friend or family member."

Snowy Peaks' Teacher of the Year Dr. Lisa Harris said she was elated to see how the school's approach to education has helped the students grow into stellar human beings.

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"I call Snowy Peaks as a place where wildflowers go to bloom," Harris said. "They're given enough freedom to just be who they are. They won't be judged here for who they are, the way they talk, their lifestyle or problems in the past. This is a place where they can start off on the right foot."

One such "wildflower" that blossomed at Snowy Peaks is Daniel Chavez, who was awarded the school's "Be Legendary" scholarship. Principal Smith described Chavez as "one of the most incredible, charismatic and hard-working people" he ever met.

Chavez, who worked a full-time job at a concrete company while going to school, said he was thrilled to graduate and receive the scholarship.

"It was a real struggle to get here," Chavez said. "I got into a lot of trouble when I was younger, and wasn't sure if I could ever get a diploma. But Mr. Smith really encouraged me to come back and finish. I've never had anyone support me as much these people at Snowy Peaks have."

Chavez said he might consider going to CMC Breckenridge in the future. He wishes to to thank his old teachers from Summit High School, Ms. Finley and Ms. Minor, as well as Jim Smith and the rest of the staff at Snowy Peaks for helping him graduate. He also wanted to thank his girlfriend Lidia and her mom Irma for their love and support.

Another student with an exceptional background is Sam Ward, a member of the British national ski team who is an Olympic hopeful. Ward was awarded the school's character award, and Smith described him as "a true Renaissance kid" who excelled in skiing, schoolwork and music. Ward went to Snowy Peaks because he needed a non-traditional school that could balance his ski training with school work.

"Getting to graduation was quite a journey," Ward said. "The school created a schedule for me that let me go to school in the morning and ski in the afternoons for every single day for training. I also had to go with the team to Europe for the entire second semester, and the school let me do a combination of accelerated courses and online classes to graduate."

Ward is deferring enrollment to either CU or CSU to pursue his skiing career. He wishes to thank teachers Jim Smith, Joe Polise, Garrett Regner, Dr. Lisa Harris and Scott Parker for helping him graduate, as well as his mom and dad, his brother Beck and girlfriend Tori.

Nicole McLachlan was awarded the school's academic achievement award as well as nearly $23,000 in scholarships. McLachlan pushed herself beyond most students' limit by taking college courses at CMC, finishing high school while working and serving as a mentor for other students. McLachlan said she dealt with mental health and personal issues before she came to Snowy Peaks, and her grades were in decline. Snowy Peaks helped her with her turnaround.

"Honestly Snowy Peaks has been everything to me," McLachlan said. "Mr. Smith and the teachers there transformed my life for the better. They care unconditionally for the students and do anything to help them succeed."

McLachlan will go on to study nursing at the University of Northern Colorado. Aside from the teachers and staff at Snowy Peaks, McLachlan wanted to thank her parents, Brian and Amy, for their monumental help getting to where she is.

Dr. Harris, who gave the commencement speech, ended with a poem she wrote. She said the poem was inspired by the generosity and thoughtfulness she saw in students when they sat in silence for 17 minutes during a protest against gun violence in the wake of the Parkland high school shooting, and reflects the way Snowy Peaks opens its doors and heart to students. The poem ends:

"Here's water when you're thirsty / Food when you're hungry / A blanket when you're cold / A quiet place when you just need to close your eyes / It's okay…We'll be right here when you wake up, / We're not going anywhere."