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Mount Abe grad explored new horizons in and out of classroom

MOUNT ABRAHAM UNION High School graduate Abel Atocha’s high school experience has been filled with trying new things, from clubs to challenging courses. He’s found such opportunities to be rewarding and encourages younger students to take advantage of new and challenging activities. 
Independent photo/Marin Howell

BRISTOL — Abel Atocha acknowledges that it’s comfortable for students to stick to the status quo while navigating high school. 

“It can be really easy to join a club that all your friends are in or take a class that all your friends are in or do something that you know you’re good at,” the 2024 Mount Abraham Union High School graduate said during a recent interview. 

While it’s easy to live inside one’s comfort zone, Atocha has sought to venture outside of his during the past four years, from pursuing challenging courses to joining the football team his senior year after having not played since fifth-grade.

He said trying new things has been a rewarding part of his time at Mount Abe and is an approach he’d recommend to prospective high schoolers.  

“A piece of advice would be to try different things that maybe aren’t necessarily the easiest,” he said. “Doing stuff like that has been pretty impactful for me. Like (taking challenging courses), I really enjoyed those classes and that was very beneficial for me to get outside of my comfort zone.” 

Atocha has added several rigorous courses to his schedule throughout high school. 

During the pandemic, Atocha completed the equivalent of two years’ worth of Spanish classes in one academic year. As a result, during his senior year, he took part in Mount Abe’s “Do Unto Others” program, volunteering as a teacher’s assistant for Spanish 5. 

Atocha has also taken advantage of the Virtual High School courses offered through Mount Abe, taught by educators around the country and accessed through a web-based platform. 

“You’re able to take online classes that Mount Abe doesn’t offer, for free,” Atocha explained. “I’ve taken about four of those throughout high school, which allowed me to explore specific interests that Mount Abe didn’t really offer classes for, which was really fun.” 

Atocha took online AP Psychology and Calculus, as well as learned about topics like the International Space Station, introductory law, and the Middle East. 

Virtual High School classes are one of several opportunities offered at Mount Abe that Atocha recommends younger students check out. 

“I don’t think people know exactly how much stuff is available,” he said. “Granted, Mount Abe’s not a huge school, it doesn’t have the most money, but there are definitely opportunities, you just have to look a little bit harder.” 

OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

Outside of the classroom, Atocha has taken part in several of the extracurricular activities Mount Abe has to offer. 

He’s run track and cross country, tried out Nordic skiing, and played for Mount Abe’s soccer and football teams. 

Participating in different sports during high school gave Atocha a chance to meet a variety of fellow students, he said. 

“That was the biggest thing for me, just getting to know a bunch of people at Mount Abe from all different grade levels,” Atocha said. “Sometimes, if you don’t do that stuff, you can just know the kids you’re in classes with.” 

Sports, particularly football, also offered Atocha an opportunity to push himself and hone new skills. 

“Football was really new to me. I hadn’t played since fifth grade, so playing again senior year was pretty fun,” Atocha said. “It was sort of a challenge, too. I was not that good going into it, so trying something new that I wasn’t great at and trying to get better at it was fun.” 

In addition to sports, Atocha has kept busy throughout high school taking part in clubs at Mount Abe. He was part of the school’s Environmental Action Group and the Eagle Leadership Society. The program, created by English teacher Addie Thompson and athletic director Devin Wendel in 2019, encourages students to be leaders inside and outside of the school.

“That’s been a fun way for me to get more involved in the community; the school community and the wider community as well,” Atocha said of the program. 

He said his favorite activity the group took part in this year was pairing upperclassmen with freshmen advisory groups. 

“You get to know those kids and answer any questions they have about Mount Abe and then just be there to get to know more people, so some of the younger kids have a friendly face in the school,” Atocha said.  

A good portion of Atocha’s free time throughout high school has been dedicated to working at his family’s business, Green Mountain Adventures in Middlebury. In the summer, Atocha works full-time helping out with the store and kids’ summer camps. 

“(Working has) probably been the most rewarding activity for me because I get to meet so many different people… There are a bunch of college parents and kids from across the country that are pretty cool to meet and talk with,” he said. 

From working at his family’s business to taking part in clubs and sports at Mount Abe, many of the activities Atocha’s found to be the most impactful throughout high school have been the ones that allowed him to get to know more of the surrounding community.  

“It feels good to go into the grocery store and know people, or to walk around town and know people,” he said. “I think it’s important to not only be a part of the community but be an active part of the community and helping out.” 

Now, Atocha is preparing to step away from the community he’s long been a part of and enter a new one across the country. Atocha will attend Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., this fall. 

It’s likely some of the opportunities he took advantage of in high school will come in handy when he heads out West. For example, he plans to walk-on to the college’s football team and knows the Spanish classes he took at Mount Abe will come in handy in Southern California, where there’s a larger Spanish-speaking population. 

In general, he feels that pushing himself outside of his comfort zone during the past four years has helped prepare him for the new chapter he’ll soon begin. 

“Just being willing to take a risk and try something new or explore something you’re interested in and passionate about on your own … I think is going to be really helpful in college with classes and clubs,” Atocha said.  

He’s confident he’ll find his footing on Pomona’s campus, among other students who are eager to challenge themselves. 

“I really like the school and the environment,” he said. “It seemed like it was really rigorous academically, but the kids also seemed really nice and personable. It seemed like there are a lot of people who are in clubs and sports and stuff outside of just academics, so I think it’ll hopefully be a good fit.”

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