Eagle River Youth Coalition April Youth Leader Spotlight: Battle Mountain senior Gustavo Orona

Carol Johnson
Special to the Daily
Battle Mountain senior Gustavo Orona is the subject of the Eagle River Youth Coalition's April Youth Leader Spotlight. Gustavo has risen from a place of being labeled at-risk to being in charge of his own destiny.
Eagle River Youth Coalition

If Gustavo Orona’s high school grade point average were a bar graph, it would put a smile on any teacher’s face at Battle Mountain High School; the upward trajectory reflects a dramatic spike and major improvement in grades.

His name would be mentioned in the conference room full of teachers and administrators during the “closing the achievement gap” discussion: “How do we get more Gustavos?” would be the hypothetical question I imagine. Gustavo’s ears would be burning.

However, Gustavo is much more than a data chart. He is a shining example of what can happen when one sets his mind to achieving personal goals coupled with being surrounded by the right people, otherwise known as trusted adults in the world of prevention, or as I call them in this case: Team Gustavo.

In charge of his destiny

Currently a senior at Battle Mountain High School, Gustavo was a starting defender in David Cope’s storied soccer program this past fall, a current Mesa State University Guardian Scholarship finalist and a product of YouthPower365’s Copa and PowerHours programs.

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Gustavo has risen from a place of being labeled at-risk to being in charge of his own destiny. Whether or not he is awarded the Guardian Scholarship, he will succeed. He sees his future very clearly, and it includes being a physical therapist for one of our local providers. He has his eye on Howard Head. He wants to give back to the community that has given him so much.

How did he get here from having a 2.57 GPA his freshman year just four years ago?

“It took me awhile to catch on,” he confessed to me during our interview. “I didn’t pay attention at first, and I had no goals.”

He attributes an attitude shift to Ms. Moore, an AVID tutor whom Gustavo has consistently met with for the past four years.

“Freshman year, I had to get a C in math in order to pass, and I got a C-, so this was a turning point. Then I started getting straight A’s. I started paying more attention in class, prioritizing better and I became more organized,” he said.

Ms. Moore also taught Gustavo how to save for college and to cook healthy meals.

CMC’s Upward Bound, a federal college-prep program for at-risk students, was another turning point for Gustavo. As a member of its college readiness program for first-generation students, he attended a six-week, pre-college program in Glenwood Springs last summer.

“I made new friends, learned Japanese and got a good feeling for what it would be like to go away to college,” he said.

He’s definitely ready to go. But, what about leaving his three little sisters behind?

Big brother times two

Gustavo told me he makes good choices because he wants to be a good role model for his three younger sisters, ages 12, 9 and 2. What motivated Gustavo to care about his sisters so much? Enter a mentor and someone he has looked up to since he was younger: Erick Briones, a graduate of Battle Mountain class of 2013, all-state Colorado soccer defender and like a big brother to Gustavo.

Erick also has three younger sisters.

“I always want to give him a good example,” Briones said. “We have this common bond as older brothers to three younger sisters. Gustavo is a good kid, and his family struggles. I think he is maturing very well. He looks after his family. He is one of those kids that goes after the goals he sets for himself. … I was the same way.”

When I asked Gustavo what kind of advice would you give to an at-risk eighth-grader who is getting ready to transition to high school, he had this to say: “Just keep going, it’s not too late. … I just kept trying … keep on trying hard. Don’t give up. Don’t get too far behind; keep up. You always have help.”

Thank you to Team Gustavo: YouthPower365’s Bratzo Horruitiner, Upward Bound’s Heather O’Malley, Battle Mountain High School’s Ms. Moore, all-state soccer standout Erick Briones and all the others who helped Gustavo along the way. Currently at a 4.0 GPA, I think that’ll do. I look forward to Gustavo’s bar graph continuing to spike.

Carol Johnson is the community education manager for the Eagle River Youth Coalition and mother to three kids.

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