Snowy Peaks, Summit County’s nontraditional public high school, celebrates graduation for class of 2019 |

Snowy Peaks, Summit County’s nontraditional public high school, celebrates graduation for class of 2019

Snowy Peaks high school students toss their caps in the air following their graduation ceremony, Thursday, May 23, at the Summit Middle School auditorium in Frisco.
Hugh Carey /

Another group, or “flurry,” of Snowy Peak Yetis have summited the top of the high school mountain. The nontraditional public school celebrated the graduation of its Class of 2019 during a ceremony at the Summit Middle School auditorium Thursday evening.

Snowy Peaks is a school for kids who, for whatever reason, do not thrive in a traditional public school environment. The school focuses on the individual needs of every single student, with an extra-attentive faculty and support staff walking beside them every step of the way.

Snowy Peaks students are always assured that they are welcome and appreciated, giving them the confidence and focus they lacked while helping build them into solid, capable members of society — something many of these students never imagined they could be.

On Thursday, 18 Yetis crossed the threshold into real adulthood, listening to their principal, Jim Smith, and others from the school and community laud them with praise for their remarkable individual accomplishments.

Graduate Brian Ortiz, a tall but gentle giant of a young man, had a long, tough road to graduation. Born and raised in Frisco by a single mom with two other siblings, Ortiz faced numerous challenges growing up in the mountains, challenges replicated in school. But thanks to the guidance and nurturing people at Snowy Peaks, he did what he never thought was possible by getting his diploma on Thursday.

“To me, graduating, it feels amazing,” Ortiz said. “It’s been a hard challenge, but setting your goals and reaching them is always good.”

Ortiz will go on to study diesel mechanics at Lincoln Tech in Denver. He recommended anyone looking for a different high school experience go to Snowy Peaks, and said his mom is very proud of him and what he’s achieved.

Abi Whinston said that getting her diploma was extremely rewarding for her, and she is looking forward to her next chapter finishing courses at Colorado Mountain College and going on to a full university, where she intends to study psychology. She credits Snowy Peaks for making that path possible.

“Snowy Peaks makes you believe in yourself again,” Whinston said. “Before I came here, I was really falling through cracks because of my learning disability. After I got here I started flourishing, and stopped feeling like I was stuck in Jell-O.”

Tristan Horen, who received a scholarship award during the ceremony for his character, has had a laser focus since he was young of joining the Marines. He asked Snowy Peaks administration if they could find a way for him to graduate a year early, and they made it possible.

“Graduating from here is truly an honor,” Horen said. “Snowy Peaks has provided me the opportunity to grad early and join the service earlier than expected, and I’m proud to have done that.”

Graduate Michael Sarber credited the support system Snowy Peaks provided for the positive attitude he and his peers brought to school every day.

“I think Snowy Peaks is an awesome school,” Sarber said. “They’ve helped me and everybody else out, not only with school but other things in life. It’s truly a family to me.”

Dawson Sullivan, who plans to work full time for a year and save up for college in Kansas, where he intends to study law, said the community at Snowy Peaks was an important factor for his own education.

“I think Snowy Peaks is a really great place to develop a community, and get a great education from high school,” Sullivan said.

Graduate and charismatic class favorite Jorie Benson piled on to praise the community at Snowy Peaks, where he starred in a school theatrical production of “The Book Thief” and found the inspiration to go on to the University of Northern Colorado, where he will study musical theater.

“Snowy Peaks is special because when you walk through the door, you don’t see a bunch of classmates, you see people who truly care about you even if they don’t know you that well,” Benson said. “You see friends and teachers who are invested in your education both inside and outside the classroom, and that’s a very special environment.”

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