Three students in AHS class of 2024 are Boettcher finalists

Photo by Priscilla Waggoner Jaymi Gile, Brock Benton and Sienna Gallegos are finalists for Boettcher Scholarships.

‘It has to come from within’

ALAMOSA — In a first-ever event for Alamosa High School (AHS), three graduating high school students in the class of 2024 have been named as “initial winners” of the Boettcher Scholarship. Brock Benton and Jaymi Gile were recently notified that they have been offered the scholarship. Sienna Gallegos has been notified that she’s an alternate.

Likely the most prestigious and competitive scholarship in the state, scholars who receive “the Boettcher,” have their college education paid for with the cost of tuition, fees, books, and other living expenses covered for the next four years.

“Our trophy case goes back to the 1950s and there have been maybe a dozen students [who were awarded the Boettcher],” says AHS Principal Andy Lavier. “In 1982, I think we might have had two. But we’ve never had this before – not three Boettcher finalists in one class.”

Multiple finalists in one class would be a notable achievement for any high school, but three scholars coming from a rural high school with only 126 students in their graduating class is nothing short of stunning.

The scope of the selection process provides some context.

Close to 2,000 high school seniors across Colorado submitted applications where they were evaluated for their superior scholastic ability and intellectual curiosity, evidence of leadership and involvement, service to community and school and outstanding character.

That pool of 2,000 applicants were then narrowed down to semi-finalists who were asked to submit two letters of recommendation. Out of that group, the Boettcher committee selected 100 finalists brought in for individual interviews with an interview panel. 

Out of those 100 students, 50 were awarded scholarships. Benton and Gile have received news that they were winners. Gallegos learned she is an alternate. 

Each student is exceptionally strong academically, but that just describes a part of who they are.

Brock Benton founded and got funding for “Minds In Shape,” dedicated to destigmatizing mental health issues and empowering students through accessible resources. When he is not heading up the Information Technology Help Desk or being captain of the varsity cross country team, Brock researches and writes about politics, philosophical ideas, and physiological beliefs. He will attend the University of Colorado in Boulder and major in electrical engineering.

In addition to starting a mobile disc jockey business, Sienna Gallegos is a junior board member for the Homeless Coalition, the news editor for the school newspaper, Governor for the Rocky Mountain District Key Club, class president and senior dancer performing regional Mexican dances with ASU’s Semillas de la Tierra. She also works with livestock, repairs fences and operates machinery on the family farm. Sienna — who was also accepted to Columbia University in New York — is interested in History and is going to Colorado State University.

Jaymi Gile founded the AHS Recycling Club, participates in civil international political debate as a member of ASU’s Model United Nations Club, is a staff writer and editor of the school newspaper, sits on the Alamosa Library Board and Tree Board while also working at Cattails Golf Course and the Alamosa Family Recreation Center. She was awarded both the Boettcher and the Daniels Foundation Scholarship and has the goal of becoming a lawyer specializing in Environmental Law with a focus on water law. She is committed to the University of Colorado at Boulder where she will major in political science and intends on attending CU’s law school.

In speaking with the students, the most obvious questions were also the most interesting. What made them who they are? Who or what influenced them in school? To what do they attribute their success?

In terms of family, none of the three are “first generation” college students as each of their mothers had been the first in their families to get college degrees. That played a significant role in each of their lives, as mothers and, in Brock’s case, other members in his large, blended family emphasized the importance of what education had meant in their lives and would mean in the lives of their children.

The students also attributed their success to educators who saw potential in them, reinforced by being placed in advanced classes.

“We were put in advanced math in the sixth grade,” Sienna says, “and that told me that my teacher saw something special in me. That was the first time that I remember thinking that and made me want to achieve something higher.”

Brock, echoing Sienna, said it was further emphasized when they were put in advanced English and Science in 8th grade.

“It’s crazy that that’s your foundation,” Jaymi says, “and to think that so much is formed by whether or not you got into an advanced math class in the sixth grade. I think how much of my success has been founded on people who believed in me when I was younger. It was a gift. I can’t believe how hard it must be for students who aren’t told that they’re special.”

More than anything, the three attributed their success to friendships. Jaymi, Brock and Sienna have been very good friends since kindergarten and the first grade. “Sienna was my very first friend in kindergarten and we’re still super close,” Jaymi says. “She helped me learn to read.”

But it was not just friendships in general that they credit, it was the specific people with whom they formed those relationships - friends who “were achievers”, who cared about school, who were interested in learning, who found their identity in being good students and held each other accountable.

Brock cites Covid as having the greatest influence on his high school years. They were in the “advanced,” cohort of 20 students and spent all day, every day with each other. He says he only became interested in politics because a fellow student started talking about it. He got involved in cross country running when he and a friend from the cohort decided to participate together. Those bonds continued throughout high school.

“It has to come from within,” Jaymi says, “and that starts with being told you can do special things. It gives you confidence that would be difficult to get on your own. If there is one thing I would tell educators, it’s that. Tell students they have potential in them.”

“These three students have blazed a trail of hope for other students in our district,” says Dr. Diana Jones, ASD Superintendent. “It is my wish that each student can see a part of themselves in these three students’ journey and character.”

“We want the very best school system for our students,” says Murillo, ASD Assistant Superintendent. “We’re all proud of being Mean Moose and having the resiliency required to live in this high-altitude desert. Investing in our students is investing in our community now, and in the future.”

 “You talk about how grit is a character trait that’s in short supply these days,” says Lavier. “They had a lot of grit and determination. And, like Sienna said, wanting to achieve at a higher level. Don’t underestimate the power of motivation.”