Chinquapin junior Ram Quiñones is spending the fall semester at High Mountain Institute, a non-profit educational organization located in Leadville, Colorado, that focuses on educating teenagers through interaction with the natural world.[Typically, we conduct face-to-face interviews. Ram spends so much time backpacking off the grid that we opted to have him submit written responses, which we edited for length and clarity.] [Our icebreaker question] What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
I have a few on the roster, but lemon/lime-flavored ice cream is my go-to, as it reminds me of those hot summer days in Mexico when we would get a tub of ice cream from the freezer to cool off.
When did you come to Chinquapin?
I first came to Chinquapin on June 7th, 2022, for my first day of Summer Session. I arrived after my freshman year in Mexico in search of new experiences and a unique environment where I could be myself fully. During that week, I found a community where I could accomplish these. I was thrilled to find out I was accepted into the sophomore class!
How did you learn about the school? What aspects of Chinquapin appealed to you to make you want to become a student?
My mom, Emilly Jasso—our current head of admissions and 8th grade ELA teacher—was a part of Chinquapin’s Class of 2000, so I heard a million stories from her time at Chinquapin, and I loved them all. Eventually, I got curious and decided to research when I started thinking about returning to the US after spending all my prior education in Mexico. How could I say no to a competitive, college-oriented small school that uplifts talented people from underprivileged communities? Since elementary school, I’ve been considered bright, but I never felt like I was (a) challenged or (b) able to use my talent to its fullest. With its long days and advanced classes, Chinquapin has given me what I was missing while teaching me about college and its process.
What did you think of Chinquapin/campus when you first arrived? Is it what you’d pictured in your head? If not, why? If so, do tell.
Arriving for Summer Session in 2022 was life-changing. Of course, I’d seen photos, but I was awestruck seeing the campus in person. At the time—having come from Mexico—I thought the campus was super modern. I mean, hydration stations? That was revolutionary compared to the water faucets used at my previous school. I loved the primarily outdoor campus. Getting fresh air between classes makes the school day smoother than a traditional, indoor public school. The buildings were beautiful, and seeing all the student-made additions was awesome! That involvement and student investment level were good indicators of the school’s “Quid pro quo” culture.
Describe your experience at Chinquapin.
From Day One on, I met respectful students who were just as excited and curious as I was. Although we joked around with teachers at my school in Mexico, there was definitely an authoritarian relationship. Coming to Chinquapin has completely changed my relationships with teachers since [Chinquapin faculty] are more willing to build connections with their students. Some teachers from my sophomore year visited me for Family Weekend at HMI! Only small class sizes allow for this kind of relationship to happen. Small classes and resident faculty mean students are more focused and can more easily access teachers for help. I know, for example, that Jonathan Yockey—one of our math teachers—always makes himself seen during afternoon and evening study hall when he knows a student might need some extra support.
Is Chinquapin preparing you for the next step in your educational journey?
Chinquapin has prepared me for college in a multitude of ways. Some obvious ones include SAT prep, college readiness classes, the campus-wide enthusiasm toward college, the importance of scholarships, etc. There are multiple more subtle ways it prepares us, such as learning to walk between buildings for classes, teaching us to have the trust to meet with professors for help, learning to live with people in a dorm, cleaning spaces via chores, and having the confidence to start things for the campus like SLC [student government].
How has Chinquapin prepared you for where you are now at HMI?
Oh boy, where to even start? Here at HMI, we have 20-minute chores in the morning, and compared to our hour at Chinquapin, it’s a breeze, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough time! The length of our school days is also pretty similar, starting at 8 am and finishing at 5:30 pm, but the structure is a little different since we have a rotating schedule of classes every day—unlike Chinquapin. Each class lasts 85 minutes, with 10 minutes between classes, which leaves time for students to decompress, get snacks, or—in my case—get some coffee.
Indeed, one of my favorite parts of our schedule is the activity block we have on Tuesdays after lunch, where we get to take a break from academics to bond with the community through various activities, including music sessions, bird watching, silly volleyball, and cabin Olympics! Chinquapin’s small community and dorm life made it much easier for me to connect with others after classes.
Chinquapin’s Learners to Leaders ideals have also prepared me to be a part of the Student Diversity Committee here at HMI, where six students and two faculty members hold weekly meetings to give input on diversity and inclusion on campus and institute change based on this feedback. We take on leadership positions during our three-week hiking trip expeditions. My first expedition was to the Sawatch range in Leadville. My second was to the Utah Canyons in Bears Ears Monument, where I will go again for my third expedition. Each student serves as one of two Leaders Of the Day (LOD) during these expeditions. LODs are in charge of navigation and group coordination and are responsible for the group’s well-being. On my LOD days, I was praised for my unique leadership style, partly cultivated by Chinquapin’s “Learners to Leaders” philosophy.
The opportunities Chinquapin gave me were a big reason why I even came on this trip. Taking part in The Woods Project club made me realize I love wilderness recreation and study. Their summer trip program to hike Donner Pass in California prepared me for my hikes in the Sawatch of Leadville and the canyons of Bears Ears National Monument.
What will you miss about Chinquapin when you graduate?
I’m gonna miss the small classes for sure. Being able to know my entire class has been a privilege I’ve had since I started my educational journey. Small classes have been so beneficial for me because I can easily understand the social dynamics in the classroom and ask people for help without any fear of rejection or unexpected behavior. The ability to walk up to just anyone is—I imagine—less common in larger settings. Even at HMI, I’m starting to feel it fading as I have different classmates for most classes, though it’s a welcome transition as the class sizes tend to be fewer than ten students per class.
Related to small classes, I’m gonna miss the people. Though I plan on keeping in contact with friends, I’ll miss seeing them in person every day. They’re some of the first people I’ve confidently been able to call my friends. My Chinquapin friendships have widened my perspective of understanding the world and have brought me more joy than I can express. Even here at HMI, I have my friend Isabelle with me. Though she’s no longer at Chinquapin, it just shows how friendships at Chinquapin transcend the school itself.
What are you most looking forward to about going to college?
Hands-down, I’m most excited for the people I will find and become friends with: People like me, people different from me, ordinary people, unordinary people, all types of people! I’m also excited about the stories and experiences I’ll have gained in college. I’m eager to learn about things I’m passionate about and meet people passionate about those things, too. Stories, experiences, education, and friends are all things that have motivated me for most of my recent life. I’ve gotta take advantage of my youth while I have it, right?
Do you have an idea of what you’ll study in college?
I have two things in mind right now. My first choice is to go into scriptwriting for animated shows. So, a degree in communications, English, or journalism. However, my experience with The Woods Project and HMI confirms my passion for the outdoors, so outdoor education has been on my mind recently. Ultimately, being expected to know these things as an ever-changing teenager is challenging, but I’m trying my best to find out what it is that I love, and that’s precisely why I’m at HMI. Furthermore, I’m considering an art semester school in California to explore my creative interests! There’s no better way to know what makes you happy than just doing it.
Have you already visited any college campuses where you’re considering applying?
Having only been in the US for a little over a year and a half, I haven’t had the pleasure of touring any colleges. The chances also become slim as my preferred colleges are out of state. Nonetheless, I will make do with virtual visits and videos of student experiences.