SHERIDAN — Two of the 10 students graduating from Arvada-Clearmont High School on Sunday have grown up in the Sheridan County School District 3 system their entire lives.
Together since kindergarten, they have been joined by others at varying stages throughout the 12 years that followed, including adding a foreign exchange student just earlier this year. Together they form the ACHS class of 2014.
Lena Frappier and Tessa Chinery may not know how it feels to try to fit into a small group of new students — they have been in that group from the beginning — but they know the benefit of helping those students adjust.
“It has been really interesting to watch all the students come and go,” Frappier said. “Since I’ve never really been the new kid, I’ve been the welcoming buddy for a lot of other students. I loved helping my classmates feel like they fit in because they came out of their shell faster and it was a great way to make friends.”
Frappier added that it can be difficult at times, being in a small group.
“It has been a little stressful because I have to deal with some of the same kids all the time and I just can’t avoid them because our school is so small,” she said.
Sara Ellingrod joined the group in fifth grade and after a series of moves and having been the “new kid” several times before that, she didn’t personally find it hard to fit in. Though she loves the small town schools she has attended, she admits it can offer its own unique set of challenges.
“The small school atmosphere is very friendly and welcoming and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she said. “It has helped me realize my values and to always treat people with respect. The challenges would have to be that sometimes I just wanted to get away from some of the small town drama; however, that was rather difficult since I knew everyone in the school.”
Kendria Nimick moved to ACHS at the end of her freshman year in 2010 after attending a large high school in Buffalo and she found the transition difficult.
“It was really weird making the transition of going to a school as big as Buffalo to a school as small as Clearmont,” she said. “I was pretty nervous.”
She added that she struggled in the beginning to join the group, but in the end became very close to her friends and made some wonderful memories with them.
Perhaps the most unique perspective is that of Dusita Tipgomut, a foreign exchange student from Thailand.
Tipgomut said she has enjoyed the school and her peers since the very beginning, but her favorite part was the teachers.
“The teachers are my favorite part of high school because I can talk about everything with them,” she said. “They didn’t just teach in classes, they also made me grow up.”
Nearly every student added the one-on-one teacher interactions to their list of best qualities of being in a small school.
Chinery noted that at a small school they may not have the amount of elective courses to choose from others have, but the overall education does not suffer.
“Even though we haven’t had all of the opportunities that they (larger schools) have been presented with, we still get the same education and we get it even better at times because we get more one-on-one time with the teachers,” Chinery said.
Shantel Armijo added that the challenge to succeed in a small school is driven by personal connections.
“Going to a small school is so much harder because you can connect with the teachers and they push you harder because they know personally your strengths,” she said.
All of the unique challenges and situations aside, the students stressed that overall it is not that different from any other school and the overwhelming benefit is the support.
“I wish (people in big schools) understood that going to a small school isn’t scary or awkward,” Ellingrod said. “It is actually where you will meet some of your best friends.”
The 10 graduates receiving diplomas Sunday are Armijo, Chinery, Ellingrod, Frappier, Nimick, Tipgomut, Tanner Clemens, Shayna Kretschman, Shaliena Lee and Kayle Liberty Riley.
Ellingrod will be honored as valedictorian and Kretschman as salutatorian with former music teacher Kathy Clements providing the commencement address.
Early calculations show the class achieved a 95 percent graduate rate and earned $79,800 in scholarships, though additional figures will continue to be calculated over the summer.
Plans for the graduates include enrollment in the University of Wyoming, Sheridan College, Casper College and other schools; travels to Peru, Australia and places across the nation; getting to work; getting to studying; and for one, getting back home to Thailand.