In a class by herself

Times have changed in the DeBeque area, leaving Jillana Alderman as a lone, but proud graduate

Jilliana Alderman, the lone 2013 graduate of DeBeque High School, stands in an empty hallway at the school. Fewer energy jobs and more athletic options elsewhere have caused a dip in enrollment at the high school.

The blue and gray halls of DeBeque High School are lined with photos of each graduating class.

Some frames squish together dozens of head shots. Others show just a small huddle of students. One, from 1916, shows a single graduate.

The hallway will include one more solo senior photo after this Saturday, when 18-year-old Jillana Alderman will become the school’s only spring graduate in the Class of 2013.

Alderman began ninth-grade at the school in fall 2009 with 13 other students. Some moved out-of-state, others dropped out, and others decided to attend school in Grand Junction or Collbran so they could play sports with larger teams. One senior moved into De Beque and then back out during the 2012-13 school year and another, Aaron Freeman, finished his graduation requirements in December.

The school has always been small but began shrinking after the recession hit and some people who were in town for nearby oil and gas jobs followed those jobs to other states. Rumors that the already downsized school may close didn’t help enrollment, according to Alderman.

The high school had 98 students in the fall of 2007. Five years later, the high school started this school year with 21 ninth- through 12th-graders.

While the high school grades have fewer than a dozen students each, DeBeque Assistant Principal Jonathan Watts said most elementary grades have more than 10 students and he believes the school will plump enrollment over the next few years.

“Like many things in education, it seems to be circles and cycles,” he said of enrollment.

Alderman’s dad, Bruce, who teaches kindergarten next door to the middle/high school at DeBeque Elementary School, said he’s “positive” the 120-student K-12 school district will return to its usual size of 175 to 200 students.

“I’d like to see it get bigger. It’s a good school with a great staff, a lot of whom have been here well over 10 years,” he said.

Bruce Alderman and his youngest daughter drive each day from their home in Grand Junction to De Beque. After finishing up eighth grade at Bookcliff Christian School, Jillana Alderman wanted to continue at a small school. She decided to attend DeBeque High because her sister, Gina, graduated from the school in 2006 and because she could catch a ride with her dad.

Being the only senior has its perks. Alderman got to pick the class flower, color and everything else by herself. She wanted to be both valedictorian and salutatorian to be funny, but the school said no so she settled for valedictorian. She takes most of her classes with only a couple other students and got to pick her science class for this year and take it by herself. She requested anatomy because she wants to attend Colorado Mesa University this fall to become a certified nurse aide.

There are some downsides to going solo, too. If she doesn’t know an answer in anatomy class, she can’t count on another student to answer it for her. She played volleyball all four years of high school and participated in track her sophomore year and basketball as a freshman and senior but had to travel to Plateau Valley High School in 10th and 11th grade for sports because there weren’t enough girls in the school those years to fill any teams. Last year, she would start her day in a math class at CMU, drive to De Beque for high school, scoot over to Plateau Valley High for sports practice and end the day back in Grand Junction.

“It was more than a hundred miles a day,” she said.

As for the social aspects of being a class of one, Alderman said she mostly hangs out with De Beque High graduates who now live in Grand Junction or with colleagues at her job at Carl’s Junior. Dating usually requires searching outside the school, but Alderman recently started dating one of the school’s juniors. All four members of the Class of 2014 are boys.

Two of those juniors, 18-year-old David Aiuto and 17-year-old Dakota White, said the school has gotten smaller since they both started in third grade.

“You learn to get along with everybody,” Aiuto said.

Alderman said she will miss the small school atmosphere, where she was able to participate in student council, yearbook and sports and learn every student’s name. But she’s ready for the next chapter in college.

“I’m scared, but it’s a good kind of scared,” she said.


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