Big Picture High School’s valedictorian attributes her persistence to the mentoring and opportunities she received as a student, and it has paid off – to the tune of $28,000.
Fiona Rodebaugh, who graduated Thursday, estimated she applied for 30 different college scholarships. She won several of them, which will help pay her way through Colorado State University.
Big Picture High held its commencement ceremony for 17 seniors Thursday evening at Rotary Park. Fiona was among them. Next, she will head out of Durango to start classes June 10 at CSU as part of its Bridge Scholars program, which helps students, especially first-generation students or students from under-represented backgrounds, make successful transitions to college.
“Honestly, I owe a lot of that to Big Picture,” she said of her unflagging efforts to win scholarships.
Fiona said she knew immediately that Big Picture would be right for her after hearing an informational session about it while she was a student at Miller Middle School.
“I knew I’d really like the independence,” she said.
Durango Big Picture’s curriculum allows students to pursue and explore their interests and passions and centers its learning model on real-world applications and experiences. The school opened in 2009 as one of Durango School District 9-R’s educational options for high school students based on student-driven curriculum options and community-based internships.
Fiona said the school allows students to continually refine their student projects and that helped her develop the drive to see through each scholarship application.
In addition, Fiona said she received invaluable assistance from Wendy Javier and the TRIO program at Fort Lewis College, which assisted her efforts to find scholarships appropriate for her.
Fiona will be the first recipient of the Elizabeth Testa Memorial Scholarship, named in honor of the longtime executive director of the Durango Education Foundation.
She also received several other scholarships, including the High Noon Rotary Scholarship, the Hartney Family Award and scholarships from CSU.
Because of family dynamics, she left Big Picture halfway through her freshman year and moved to California, but she struggled personally, socially and academically after the move.
“I wasn’t getting that one-on-one support. At Big Picture, you get an adviser your freshman year, and you keep that adviser all four years,” she said.
Fiona returned to Big Picture as a junior and thrived.
Chantey Webbe, Rodebaugh’s adviser, said that because students get to choose their own projects, combined with internships in business environments, the school creates an environment that lends itself to self-reflection and accountability.
“We strive to honor the whole human being, not just the pupil. I think that’s why we are more like a family environment,” Webbe said.