Tears for teachers, cheers for seniors in first class
Caprock Academy seniors may experience two “firsts” Friday morning.
One is guaranteed: The five 12th-graders who will graduate on Caprock’s last day of school at the end of the week will become the school’s first graduating class. The school opened in 2007 with kindergarten through seventh grades and added a grade level each year, finally expanding into a K-12 school last fall.
The other “first” is just about as likely to happen on graduation day — seeing their teachers cry.
“I’m very proud. I’ll probably be wearing sunglasses that day,” to cover her tears, said teacher Sandy McMacken.
McMacken was there in the school’s first days in 2007-08, when four of the senior class’ students enrolled at Caprock at times throughout the year. Those four students are Arosic Penn, Angel Ortiz, Victoria Schwietert and Devlin Sherrill, all 18. Erin Morgan, 17, joined the future first graduating class at Caprock in ninth grade.
The Class of 2013 dwindled from 28 students in seventh grade to 14 by the time they started high school, then down to 11 during sophomore year and six in junior year. The students receiving Caprock’s first diplomas this week “are the ones who wanted to do the work and excel,” according to Caprock Dean of Students Joe Fanning.
“We’re a demanding school. We’re not for everyone. We have a dress code and two hours of homework a night,” Fanning said. “They rose to the challenge.”
Caprock is a charter school that offers a “classical” education. Teachers prioritize logic, rhetoric and grammar; Latin is a class offering; community service hours are required; and seniors are required to write a 25- to 35-page thesis before graduation. The topic is, “What is the good life?”
The senior class also made the first annual senior trip to Italy in October and spent 10 days exploring Rome, Florence, Assisi, Naples and Pompeii. The trip helped an already close group of students — none of whom knew each other before they came to Caprock — grow closer.
“We’re like a family,” Penn said.
“We take care of each other,” Morgan added.
Sherrill said he has gotten to know his fellow seniors as well as the rest of the school given its range of grades. Sherrill mentored some middle school boys during his time at Caprock.
“We all have friends at other schools but we’re happy here,” he said. “You can develop friendships with people you might not normally hang out with.”
Each student will go to college next year. Three are going to Colorado Mesa University and Morgan is deciding between Colorado Mesa and Newman University in Wichita, Kan. Schwietert is headed to the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Watching each student mature from middle-schoolers to almost-college students has been an honor for Caprock teacher Tracee Flenard. She’s looking forward to seeing today’s fifth-graders, many of whom have been with the school since it opened, go all the way from kindergarten to graduation at Caprock. She said this year’s graduating class will probably be the school’s smallest, but she sees that as a blessing.
“There’s something to be said for graduating in a small group. I see them staying connected for a long time,” Flenard said.
Teacher Cerise Hock said she asks the seniors if they saw their small class size as an asset or a drawback. Although some said they felt a larger class size would have exposed them to more cultural diversity, Hock said the students felt it was a benefit to get to know their classmates and teachers.
Teachers described Penn as a “class clown,” Ortiz as an avid hospital volunteer and Sherrill as a student ready to help anyone. Valedictorian Schwietert is fervent in her studies and salutatorian Morgan is a budding journalist, according to their teachers.
This is the first year staff know a class of their students won’t be back in the fall. That knowledge stirs mixed feelings of pride and sadness in Headmaster Kristin Trezise.
“It hasn’t always been easy to be first but they’re good examples for the younger students,” she said. “It’s bittersweet to see them go.”