New America School grads ‘find their wings’ |

New America School grads ‘find their wings’

Sarah Mausolf
Vail Daily/Sarah Mausolf

GYPSUM, Colorado – Kim Flores Reza had quite the ride to her high school graduation. She emerged from a helicopter that touched down outside Lundgren Theater on Saturday morning.

Flores Reza was the valedictorian at New America School, and her entrance tied into a message she delivered to her class: “With your diploma, may you find your wings.”

Originally from Mexico, Flores Reza said she knew no English when she enrolled in the New America School. Clearly, she’s a quick study because she has earned a partial scholarship to The University of Texas at El Paso, where she will major in industrial engineering.

Sixteen seniors graduated from the New America School in Gypsum during the school’s third commencement ceremony. The school itself reached a milestone – it has been a charter school for the past three years but officially became part of the Eagle County School District. To symbolize the change, school founder Jared Polis handed a giant key to district superintendent Sandra Smyser.

Polis said he started the school to empower new immigrants and those learning English. The Congressman started his speech at the graduation by apologizing to the families for “our laws that are out of touch with reality.”

“I want to apologize for what our laws do to you and your families,” Polis said. “It is my hope, and I am not alone, it is the hope of many members of Congress, that we will fix our broken laws and allow people to live without fear and contribute to making our country even greater.”

Helen Thorpe, author of “Just like Us” and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s wife, talked about a young woman she interviewed while researching her book. The young woman’s family moved to the United States from Mexico, and although the young woman did well in high school, she received mixed messages from those around her about whether she belonged or could succeed in America. The young woman finished high school and found a way to go to college.

Many of the students at the New America School have overcome roadblocks of their own, from learning English to working full-time jobs throughout high school to balancing classes with raising children. Principal Kathy Brendza talked about the various plans students have for their futures.

Alberto Ayala will be heading to Mesa State College in Grand Junction to study business. The 19-year-old from Gypsum said he had been in fights in a previous school in Texas and left that state after being stabbed in an incident separate from school.

He said the New America School helped him achieve a dream he never though possible. Ayala received a scholarship to Mesa State.

“It feels so wonderful,” he said just before graduation. “It’s like a big breath of air. I’m really happy.”

It was a huge day for Gaspar Rodriguez Mendez, as well. The 20-year-old Eagle resident planned to get married later that day.

“I want to start a new life,” he said.

Ibrahima Diallo was looking forward to pursuing a career as a doctor. He said his family fled poverty and war in Senegal when they moved to the United States in 2008. The 19-year-old said he improved his English at the New America School and will be heading to Colorado Mountain College to begin his studies.

For some students, the New America School offered a second chance at getting a diploma.

After dropping out of a different area high school, Enrique Munoz changed his mind about giving up on school.

“I wanted to get a better future for myself,” he said.

He decided to try the New America School and said he loved it by the end of the first month. He worked full time throughout his tenure there. Munoz will be heading to Colorado Mountain College to study culinary arts.

Julian Garcia said he enrolled in the New America School after being kicked out of other schools. The flexible schedule allowed him to work full time while taking classes at night. He said earning his diploma was hard work but it was worth it.

“I feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders and a feeling of accomplishment,” he said.

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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