Lao Tzo proclaims that, “To lead people, walk behind them.” When reflecting on the significant impact that Battle Mountain High School (BMHS) junior Jenifer Macias is having on her peers, I recall her quiet but significant role modeling of community and youth engagement. Jenifer has sought out numerous opportunities for herself, from academic to service, in order to learn about various pathways, develop a network, and relish her high school experience.
I first met Jenifer as a freshman when she was recruited through a friend and fellow classmate to support Mountain Youth with translation. This volunteer duty supported hours required for her Eagle County School District Seal of Biliteracy. This credential requires volunteerism in both English and Spanish. The program recognized its largest graduating class to date in the 2019-2020 school year, with 72 students earning the Seal, despite the pandemic and remote learning challenges. Jenifer appreciates building multilingual expertise and recognizes the advantages it will offer being able to greet and interact with a broader population.
Quickly, Jenifer’s talents were acknowledged, and she was urged to join the Communities That Care (CTC) Process. Facilitated through Mountain Youth, CTC is a multi-year process aimed to build various protective factors or assets while reducing risk factors. Specifically, Jenifer has been co-chairing the Youth Recruitment and Reward work, building pipelines throughout the community to support youth advising. In the “nothing about us without us” mindset, Jenifer thought it would be interesting to help other young people have a voice. “I was surprised that adults were willing to offer paid compensation and give school credit for leadership opportunities,” Jenifer points out. I have personally observed Jenifer design agendas, facilitate meetings with peers and professionals, and eloquently collect feedback on the meeting in a manner that surpasses experiences many professionals can deliver. Since she began in this work, Jenifer has recognized a growing number of youth leadership and advising roles, many of them putting their money where their mouth is and paying young people for roles like tutoring and coaching. In turn, Jenifer explains that “Pay is a motivator because it feels like a job that we take very seriously; we are more committed to doing it well, and we prioritize the work.” She has also recognized a boost in awareness about these types of opportunities. Jenifer touts groups like YouthPower365, SOS Outreach, and Upward Bound as leaders in the field. As a third-year participant in Upward Bound, a program hosted by Colorado Mountain College (CMC) and aimed at supporting first-generation college students, highlights have included college tours and a weeklong stay at the CMC Leadville campus for a summer learning excursion. Heather O’Malley, Director of the local TRIO Upward Bound program, remarks, “Jenifer has consistently been the first person to help her friends stay on track and jump in when they need support. She is very motivated to go to college and puts in more hard work than almost any student I have worked with. Most importantly, she is very kind and has a smile for everyone.”
Jenifer has also grown her engagement on campus. As she humbly rattles off her participation in Link Crew, Student Council, National Honor Society, and the Gifted & Talented Program, Jenifer softly remarks that her involvement makes high school more fun. She loves meeting new people and having unique experiences. Jenifer became a Teacher’s Assistant for Ms. Baglietto, who serves as an equity lead in addition to her foreign language instructional duties. “I can relate to Ms. Baglietto- she is Mexican and my family is from Mexico, which helps us to understand each other’s struggles. She also inspires me because she went to school in Paris and has had great jobs,” Jenifer reflects. Jenifer supports organizing and distributing books through an equity library and planning staff meetings on equity to incorporate a student perspective. In Ms. Baglietto’s perspective, “Jenifer has become a right hand I can count on to analyze and review ideas with. She not only helps with the inception and creation of equity, diversity and inclusion programs at BMHS, but she has also stepped into an advocacy role.”
Jenifer has been recruited to serve on Youth Equity Stewardship (YES), a Council of students throughout Eagle County Schools representing each middle and high school. YES aims to build bridges by boosting understanding and appreciation of cultural, historical, and other contexts that students bring. Additionally, Jenifer recently advised the Eagle County Schools Board of Education on Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment experiences for Hispanic students. “I never would have thought I could go to a board of adults and tell them what I personally felt needed to change, and they would actually listen. They seemed to care a lot about our opinions,” Jenifer explains. On the topic of advanced classes, Jenifer encourages students to ask their teachers about options, because even though her family wants to teach her, they did not have the capability. Jenifer wants to inform younger students and encourage them to advocate for higher-level opportunities. Jenifer suggests, “These classes are more work than regular classes, but as long as you are willing to put in the effort, they can open so many doors and save money in the long run.”
What is next for this soon-to-be senior? Jenifer sees a future in sciences and has treasured her biology and chemistry coursework. Hailing from a family where graduating high school is a significant accomplishment, Jenifer has been motivated for many years to pave the college pathway. “My parents are a huge inspiration to me and talk to me every day about careers and my college path. They came here to build a better life for themselves and for us. I am motivated to do well, so all of their efforts will seem worth it,” Jenifer summarizes.
I aim to embody Jenifer’s core mantra as I move forward in my day, “I can do anything, even if the odds are against me.”
Written by Michelle Stecher, Executive Director