SODA's top students talk about their futures

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Graduating seniors today are not like graduates in their parents' time. Some of today's seniors are graduating with several hours of college credit or even associates degrees along with their high school diplomas.

Some of the top seniors at the School of Dreams Academy said easy access to the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus and the school's dual-enrollment program encouraged them to take college classes.

"One of the things that was really nice was being able to go to the college, because that has really helped me with moving into the adult life," said SODA Valedictorian Kyle Wheeler. "It makes me understand more how everything works."

Wheeler plans to get a degree in computer game design, and said being valedictorian and almost having an associates degree are his greatest accomplishments.

"Since ninth grade, I have wanted to get valedictorian, and ever since then, that was my goal," Wheeler said. "My goal was to get As in every class so I could guarantee my being valedictorian. It's something I always wanted to have under my belt."

His mother was his greatest inspiration and mentor because without her, he said, he is chronically lazy.

"Without her, I probably couldn't have gotten nearly as far," he said.

Salutatorian Alyssa Baca is interested in architectural interior design, and said her mother, Deanna Baca, is her most important mentor who helped her succeed.

"She's always been there for me and taught me the importance of hard work," Baca said. "If you don't pursue anything after high school, it's not going to end up well for you. It's better to know that you can be independent rather than always having to rely on someone else in your life."

Baca wants to attend either UNM or New Mexico State University this fall.

"I think this school is unique in that students who want to work at a slower pace can do that," said senior Albert Reed. "But the thing that's really unique is this school allows you to go down to UNM-VC, take whatever classes you want, and it's all paid for."

Another student, Rachel Padilla, has been to three different high schools, and got to the point where she just wanted to get her GED so she could take college classes, she said.

"This was the school that really encouraged (me) to do dual-credit," Padilla said.

The teachers also encouraged her to take more than one college course per semester.

"Now I have my high school diploma and I have those college classes," Padilla said.

She will graduate with 16 college credit hours under her belt after only one year at SODA, she said. Her goal is to be an ultrasound technician.

The school is like a springboard, a support system and resource base, students said, and having a mentor is a big part of their academic success. The mentors were older siblings, parents and teachers they admire who inspired them to go the extra mile when they were ready to give up.

"I was considering dropping one of my chemistry classes at the VC because I was like, 'There's too much going on," said Reed.

But one of the SODA teachers, Creighton Edington, challenged him to persevere, and now Reed is graduating with about 35 college credit hours, he said.

"He pushes us a lot — to go outside our limits, outside our comfort zone and try new things," said Maria Troyer. "By doing that, you realize you're actually capable of a lot more than you ever thought you were."

She is graduating with 55 college credit hours.

Sometimes their mentors made them mad, but because they knew their mentors believed in them, they were motivated to step up their game, they said.

"Mr. Edington has been the backbone for a lot of students," said senior Danielle Garcia.

She has been accepted to Eckerd College in Florida to study marine biology, and her role model is her grandmother, Mary Stella Parra, a cancer survivor.

"She has always taught me to be compassionate, to work hard for something and never give up," Garcia said. "I think that's what motivates me to be the person I am."

Yaqueline Flores wants to be a physical therapist, and said her older sister, Donna, is her role model because Donna always worked hard. Even when her school classes were hard, she helped her mother with household chores and helped Yaqueline with her homework.

"Now she's in the Army (stationed in Texas), and she never gives up. She's really strong," said Flores. "She tells me to work hard and not give up."

The school's focus in the arts, digital arts, robotics and dance exposed students to career paths they might otherwise not have considered.

Maria Troyer wanted to be a veterinarian, but because she became so fascinated with robotics, she realized engineering is what she really wanted to pursue.

"You're working on real world problem-solving in robotics," said Troyer. "You're building things and creating solutions. It's cool âˆ' you can get an idea what the field is actually going to be like when you have a real job."

Students said they learned life skills while also learning how to be innovative with materials at hand in creating machines that actually perform tasks.

"The dance and music program helped me figure out who I wanted to become and what I want to be," said Mary Arleth, an aspiring song writer and performer.

The freedom to express yourself is what makes going to school fun, Arleth said.

"It's not just the dancing; it has taught me that hard work always pays off," said Jessica Adams, who wants to be a pediatric nurse. "If you're willing to push yourself to a certain goal, you'll get somewhere. It's not only in dance, but in life."

Sierra Mason was inspired by retired home-school teacher Lois Castillo, from the Los Lunas Family School.

"She's a really great family friend and has been like a grandma to me," Mason said. "She was one of the people I talked to that was an adult outside my parents. I knew I could trust her."

Choosing friends who support you and your goals can help you blossom as a person and succeed in school, students said.

And taking school seriously and looking at it as an investment in yourself is the most important attitude for success in high school.

"Utilize the opportunities that you have, to get the things you don't have," said Wheeler.

SODA's top seniors this year are Valedictorian Kyle Wheeler, son of Charmaine and Kenny Wheeler; Salutatorian Alyssa Baca, daughter of Deanna and Aaron Baca; Maria Troyer, daughter of Anna and Gerry Troyerl; Mary Arleth, daughter of Julie and Frederick Arleth; Danielle Garcia, daughter of Rita Garcia and Floyd Garcia; Jessika Adams, daughter of Karen Lucero and granddaughter of Dolores Lucero; Albert Reed, son of William and Lauri Reed; Sierra Mason, daughter of Kirk and Shelly Mason; Rachel Padilla, daughter of Peter and Loretta Padilla; and Yaqueline Flores, daughter of Maria Flores and Roy Valdo.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.