Updated: Oct 5
Crashing to his own beat! Empathetic, charismatic, and engaged are three characteristics that sum up my friend Victor Lopez. I first met Victor, a sophomore at Battle Mountain High School when he spoke in front of the Eagle County School District Board of Education. Victor has appreciated getting to speak at these meetings, and is also realistic about change-making processes. As he shared, “Bringing up our student concerns doesn’t guarantee that there will be immediate change, but it does seem like we can help make positive change over time. That is hard because students do want to see change immediately.” Victor also quickly points out that school board members and the superintendent really do listen attentively and put their own experiences aside; they genuinely want to listen to student perspectives.
Victor was invited to speak due to his involvement with the Youth Equity Stewardship (YES!) program, a District-wide program that Victor was recommended for by his 8th grade teachers at Berry Creek Middle School. “YES! is super fun. I love meeting new people and talking about what we can do better in schools together. We are exploring how we can create safe environments where students feel like they belong,” Victor reflects. One thing led to another, and Victor, alongside his friend Chase, helped pump up all of the District’s educators and support staff at last year’s Educator Academy. Bringing all of the District staff together for a quasi-pep rally, Victor shared his perspective on what major school transitions are like for students. Similarly to how he felt about transitioning into high school, the Educator Academy speech in front over 1,200 adults was, “Nerve wracking, amazing and opportunistic,” according to Victor. As Natia Luck, Eagle County School District’s Belonging and Engagement Coordinator, shares, “Victor is a committed community member, in all areas he is involved in. Whether it's football, board meetings, or helping set up, Victor is there with a smile on his face. Victor and I have worked together many years in YES!, where he has shown his ability to bring people together across differences. He is consistently authentic, kind, and open minded.”
Through Victor’s involvement with YES! and interactions with the School Board, he can be honest about his personal experiences and brainstorm student supports with his peers. These have been valuable pipelines for authentic student voice. Victor points out that, since students from different schools are brought together, many points of view are shared and students work together toward common goals. Topics YES! students have worked on include sexuality and racism, and Victor has recognized changes in students feeling more confident being themselves. Mindfulness around labels and language has been another area of progress Victor has noticed.
Victor has attended June Creek Elementary School and Gypsum Creek Middle School in addition to Berry Creek and Battle Mountain, and he treasures having lived in Eagle County since second grade. Things have not always been easy, having moved eleven times since he arrived in this community. Still, Victor deeply appreciates all of the opportunities for children and young people to get involved, both in and out of school. Victor has enjoyed Bravo’s music programs, YouthPower 365 services, and various job opportunities. Victor started playing football in sixth grade, as soon as he aged in, and has played lineman ever since, recently adding kicker to his repertoire. While Battle Mountain may not be known for their football successes, Victor raves about the coaches and upper classmen. They are all been extremely welcoming, helping the players learn the game as well as preparing them for the start of school. Navigating a tough freshman year personally, these individuals served as role models and helped provide a safe sanctuary for Victor on the field and on campus. His coach often translates the game of football into life lessons and is constantly holding players to high academic standards.
Off the field, Victor plays cymbal with Battle Mountain’s varsity drumline. How does one get involved with drumline, and playing cymbal no less? In typical Victor fashion, he thought it would be fun and dropped Spanish in 8th grade to take drumline. “I want to change the reputation and make cymbals cool again,” Victor laughs. Cymbalists don’t typically have many prescribed notes, so Victor has been encouraged by older musicians to improvise, feeling out the song and chiming in on his own beat.
To round out the resume, Victor has recently joined Mountain Youth’s Valley’s Voice squad. These middle and high school students identify gaps and needs in the community and pool resources together to take action. Victor has been leading a mental health project around kindness. He strives to ensure people are comfortable reaching out and talking when they are not ok. “I felt so isolated and alone when I was in a dark place. I wish I felt like I could talk to someone,” Victor remembers. Drawing from his personal experience, Victor is motivated to create student support structures and shifts norms so that no one feels alone. Ultimately, school, and friends at school, have been a safe haven for Victor. They have helped him feel safe, secure and welcome.
Victor recognizes that this collection of opportunities is unique, and one that he has worked hard to curate. He realizes that these experiences can help him down the road, be them through technical skills he is mastering or relationships he continues to grow. He wants to remind his peers to take advantage of opportunities here- they are diverse and plentiful. Please say hello to Victor when you bump into him in the hallway, on the field, or out in the community. This friendly face is eager to grow his circle!
Written by Michelle Stecher, Mountain Youth Executive Director. firstname.lastname@example.org