The triumphs and challenges of senior year are different for every student.
The fourth and final year of high school will be a unique experience for every one of the thousands of Cherry Creek School District students who end up crossing the stage to pick up their diplomas in May. For some, the 2014-15 year will be the gateway to a college career, an academic precursor to a higher level of learning. For others, senior year will preface the first tentative steps toward a career, whether it be through trade and technical training, a new life in the military or any number of other directions.
Whatever the next step, the coming months will serve as a time of transition for hundreds of seniors in the district. Every one of those students will strike out on their own path and find their own rewards. On the first day of the 2014-15 school year, three Smoky Hill High School seniors were already planning for their own milestones. The trio boasted different backgrounds – one arrived in the United States as a teenager who spoke no English; another chose to attend Smoky Hill over two other CCSD high schools; the third had been a part of the neighborhood’s system of Cherry Creek schools since the age of 7.
Despite their divergent backgrounds, all three shared a common commitment to the school and district they’d be leaving in less than a year. Just like all of the seniors bound for graduation in 2015, this trio boasted their own unique plans. But each credited Smoky Hill High School for helping them steer those plans. Each said their school had an integral role in helping them map their future.
Nathalie Dieme, 18
It’s nearly impossible to pick up any trace of an accent when Nathalie Dieme speaks.
That’s all the more impressive, considering the 18-year-old from Dakar, Senegal, didn’t speak English when she landed in Colorado in 2007. She traveled to a new state and a new country at the behest of her father, an immigrant who’d come to the United States on a work program years before.
Eventually, she found ways to communicate, picking up the language of her new native country and building important support networks.
A big part of that puzzle fell into place when she enrolled at Smoky Hill High School last year. She found a sense of belonging with new friends and supportive teachers. She felt a newfound purpose participating in extracurricular activities and focusing on academics. She even found chances to speak her native French in classes and in clubs.
The importance of that network is paramount as Nathalie enters her final year as a high school student.
“There’s a community here. There’s school spirit. There are resources,” she said. “We have a lecture center in every single subject. Off periods are useful; I do my homework. There’s also a strong connection between the teachers and the students. You can always find someone to talk to here.”
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Kathleen Russo, 17
Kathleen Russo is a consummate juggler.
She may not practice the literal craft common to a circus or a sideshow, but the 17-year-old Smoky Hill senior has plenty of experience keeping several figurative balls in the air at once. There’s her role in the school’s DECA club, her involvement in student government, her regular load of Advanced Placement classes and all of the other challenging academic commitments.
“It never ends,” Russo said with a wide smile. “I’ve always been juggling so I’m getting very good at it. I love being involved in school and I get very bored if I’m not doing something all of the time.”
Russo was already keeping up that pattern of engagement in the first days of the 2014-15 school year. She had been on campus weeks before the official kickoff of classes, coordinating activities for clubs and preparing for her role as a tutor.
That early involvement speaks to Russo’s deep roots at the school. She’s looking at small liberal arts colleges far from Aurora – her options include campuses in Michigan and California. Whatever her destination for 2015, Smoky Hill will leave an indelible mark on her future.
“The schools interact with each other,” Russo said. “I hadn’t realized what a centerpiece the schools were in a community and how they’re related to so many other different things.”
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Walter Prince, 17
Walter Prince had options when it came to choosing his high school.
After completing 1st through 8th grade at CCSD’s Challenge School, Prince was debating between a number of high schools in the district. A variety of factors steered his decision, not the least being his passion and skill as a soccer player. He considered coaches, stats and records from different schools. He considered attending Cherry Creek High.
Ultimately, he opted for Smoky Hill, a decision that involved more than just sports. Prince had an early commitment to academics, and the school’s International Baccalaureate program held a special appeal.
“As soon as I got in to IB, I said, ‘I’ve got to go to Smoky Hill,’” Prince said. The decision would prove a boon for the academic and athletic sides of his life. “My sophomore year, we had a breakout season and went to the state title … Ever since, the program has been very strong.”
Prince still has the full timeframe of his senior year to make the next round of important decisions regarding his future. Even so, that process will come along with a full slate of activities, athletics and other extra-curricular activities. It’s a full pace that Prince has come to demand of himself; his time at Smoky Hill has set a pattern of consistent involvement and constant work.
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Posted Aug. 25, 2014