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2023 senior spotlight: Whatcom County schools

What's next for local graduates?

By Hailey Hoffman Visual Journalist

Meet a crop of graduating seniors from schools across Whatcom County. 

 

BLAINE HIGH SCHOOL

A headshot of Monika Brooks-Delgado.
Monika Brooks-Delgado is graduating from Blaine High School. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Monika Brooks-Delgado

Post-grad plans: Whatcom Community College, then to Western Washington University to study education 

What do you do outside of school?   

I work at Paso del Norte. It’s a Mexican restaurant in Blaine, and I’m a hostess. During the summers, I work at the C Shop in Blaine. And I hang out with my friends.

What was your high school experience like at Blaine?  

I wouldn’t say it was the best. I didn’t really have a lot of friends, and I struggled with bullying a lot. But, this year, I’ve made a lot of really good friends, and I’ve met some good people that made my senior year more tolerable.  

How did that impact you?  

It made school really hard to go to, and when COVID came around, I nearly dropped out because I didn’t have the motivation to go to school or get my schoolwork done. When we were finally allowed to start going back to school, I just didn’t show up at all. I had to force myself to go back because my teacher told me that I might as well just be a dropout. I wasn’t going to go anywhere in life if I didn’t go back to school. So, I had to do that myself.  

What advice would you give to your younger self or a younger student?   


Definitely just get your work done. Don’t wait, because it makes the rest of high school harder.  

Is there a teacher or staff member who has impacted you?  

The Family Service Center coordinator. Her name is Ms. Julie Butschli, and she’s really great. I switched out of this horticulture class to go TA. I’d help her organize her room, and we just got really, really close. I didn’t want to walk at graduation. I just wanted to pick up my diploma and get over it because I didn’t really want to celebrate Blaine at all, and she was like, “You should walk.” She’s coming to my graduation party.  

What’s next?  

I’ll be working this summer, and I’ll be trying to go to Whatcom in the fall where I’ll be raising my GPA. Then, I’m going to try to move to Western to hopefully get into their education program. When I was younger, I didn’t have very good teachers, and I never got the guidance I needed, which made school in the long run really hard. One day, randomly, sophomore year, I was like, “I want to be a teacher.” So, I just started TA-ing and being a peer tutor, and I’ve been doing it since. It’s a lot of fun.   


A photo of Hannah Nyland holding drummer sticks.
Hannah Nyland is graduating from Blaine High School. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Hannah Nyland

Organizations: Blaine band, Teen Court, GearUp [Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs] student advisory, peer mentor 

Interests/hobbies: Activism, politics, drummer/percussionist, music 

Post-grad plans: Whatcom Community College  

What was your school experience like in Blaine? 

I’ve been going to Blaine School District all 12 years, so I’ve been with the same people since I was five. All the schools are right next to each other, so it’s very close-knit, a very good community, and that’s what shaped me, honestly. I had joined band when I was in middle school, and I was dealing with a lot of mental health issues. It was the one place where I felt safe. And, my band director, Bob Gray, he has been the most caring person I’ve ever met in my entire life. It’s just been a huge impact in my life, and he’s always encouraged us to use our voice for change, and his advice has worked.  

How does it feel to be leaving high school?  

Very emotional, but I’m also very ready. It’s hard to leave people you’ve known since you were 5. As much as I am excited for them with where they’re going, it’s like, “Wait!” I am so not ready to leave band. I’m almost at a loss of words for how much band means to me, but specifically, Mr. Gray because he’s just brought this band together. It’s this family sense — we’ve cried together, we’ve laughed together.  

What is your favorite memory or experience from high school?   

I’m on the GearUp student advisory committee. GearUp is a program that pulls students for years through high school and one year afterwards, helping them decide if they want to go to college, community college, technical school, trade school, military.  

I’ve gotten a lot of amazing opportunities. Probably the most amazing one was going to Washington, D.C., last summer. We spoke to 3,000 people. I gave a speech on gun violence in schools because that was a few months after Uvalde, and then when Blaine had a lock down which was five hours. It’s powerful to see so many faces, to speak to thousands of educators, principals, students from across the country. It’s empowering and you’re really making a change, or at least, informing someone about what it’s like to be a student in that situation. 

How did that impact your high school experience and your future?   

It really made me take off into politics. I love politics. I’ve always been a very opinionated person. When I got back, it really motivated me to get into our local politics by joining the Bellingham Youth Collective. I was helping with the primaries and the election in November. I would meet and try and get young people to register to vote, which was really cool. But it was difficult because not a lot of young people know that there even is a local election. I only registered two people, but it was an impact, and I’m ready for the next election to help out.

You have a learning disability, so how has that impacted your post-graduation plans?   

I applied to Western [Washington University] in November and I was rejected. I had nine activities to which I was president of; I wrote about going to D.C.; and I explained that I had a learning disability and an [individualized education plan]. I didn’t cut it and that’s fine, but I still want to be educated. I still want to go to college. I found Whatcom has a really great math center, and math is my main struggle. So, I’ll be going to Whatcom Community College for two years, studying psychology. I’m not completely sure. I want to help people. I want to have an impact on people.   


FERNDALE HIGH SCHOOL

A photo of a posing Matthias Prenosil.
Matthias Prenosil is graduating from Ferndale High School. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Matthias Prenosil

Organizations: Ferndale varsity wrestling

Interests/hobbies: Dungeons and Dragons, video games, wrestling, driving his 1996 Mustang GT  

Post-grad plans: Trade school to be a plumber 

How do you feel about graduating?  

It’s exciting, but also I’m terrified of not having everything planned out. I want to have everything planned out, but I just don’t.  

How did COVID impact your high school experience?   

I don’t do well online, so first of all, I basically checked out the whole year we had online classes. I was just sitting at a computer. I didn’t really meet up with people. It was just being alone — just me, my thoughts and TV shows. Then, we went back to school … We did this on/off thing where we went to school a couple days, and then spent some days at home. That was a little better because I got to go to school, but still not great.  

Is there a teacher or staff member who has impacted you?  

Mrs. [Keeli] Brady was a great teacher. She was nice, but she wouldn’t let you have any funny business. She’d crack down if you tried anything. She was my middle school teacher. She actually moved up to the high school with me, so I’ve known her for six years. We’ve known each other for a long time. It’s just nice to have someone I can talk to and have more [of a] relationship with. I’d like to say that it helped me to be more social.

What advice would you give to your younger self or a younger student?  

Keep on top of your schoolwork. That’s been so fun to track down after you let it pile up.  

What’s next?  

A family reunion trip and a job. Right now, not guaranteed, but I’m looking into being a plumber.  

What interests you about the trades?  

The physical nature of it and just being able to work. I’d get to talk to people, get to be physical in work and also a little bit of technical problem-solving. I don’t like to sit at desks. I don’t like to be still — I like to be moving and active, so having something to fiddle with or do is always great.  

Why do you plan to stay in the area?   

It’s where everyone I know is, so it’s where I can get the most job opportunities right now. Just through connections and such. Just a good place to start out. And then if I feel like going and visiting somewhere or moving out somewhere, I’ll be able to do that.


A photo of Jorge Mendoza holding a Berserk manga.
Jorge Mendoza is graduating from Ferndale High School. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Jorge Mendoza

Organizations: Employee of Metrie, Inc.

Interests/hobbies: Working out, reading Manga, playing piano 

Post-grad plans: Trade school to be a welder 

Tell me about moving to Whatcom County.   

Half of my life is spent here and the other half is in Guatemala. It was scary. There’s a lot of new people. When I’d see Americans, I’d just think they’re giants compared to me. I remember when I got here for my first day from the airport. I was getting my luggage, and this one guy walked behind me, trying to get his luggage. I was just scared because he was like really tall. I was used to the people in Guatemala because they wouldn’t be that big. It was kind of scary. And especially learning a new language, too, because already, I spoke two languages — Spanish and my Indigenous Aguacateco. Now, I got to learn English.  

What was it like being thrown into a new school and having to learn a third language?

It was definitely hard because I didn’t know anyone. So, I was antisocial and didn’t talk to anyone until I met one of my closest friends. His name is Carlos. We’ve been friends since third grade. He helped me translate a bunch of stuff, and eventually, I learned English, so I started talking more.  

Is there a teacher or staff member who has impacted you?  

My teacher that helped me learn English, Ms. [Tammy] Annette. My second one is Ms. [Ann] Lackland; she was an ELL teacher. She helped me learn English in high school. Then my current one is Ms. [Joan] Hudson. She’s also an ELL. She helped me a lot with a bunch of stuff. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here doing this interview.  

How does it feel to be graduating?  

In a way, I’m kind of relieved. I’m getting more free time, but at the same time, it’s sad because I won’t see my friends anymore. I won’t see my teachers. I won’t see everyone I care about. I’ll be one of the first people in my family to graduate.  

What advice would you give to your younger self?   

Use your time wisely. You don’t have that much time.

What’s next?  

The next step is going to college and taking welding classes. Before my dream of being a welder, I wanted to be a mechanic. But then I started to research about it. It was too complicated, especially because of the wiring. So I was like, “Well, I could be a welder and I could still work with cars.” I love the way [cars] look, how they’re unique. They sound amazing.  


LYNDEN HIGH SCHOOL

A photo of Amanda Schuyleman with a stethoscope.
Amanda Schuyleman is graduating from Lynden High School. on May 11, in Bellingham. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Amanda Schuyleman

Organizations:  Health Occupations Student Association (HOSA), softball, church, youth group, student athletic training for football and boys basketball  

Interests/hobbies: Health care, gardening 

Post-grad plans: Montana State to study Nursing for a career as a pediatric or ICU registered nurse  

What do you like about Lynden High School and the community?   

It is a very tight community. Some people really like to focus on the sports aspect of things. But also, Lynden does a really good job academically, as much as we celebrate sports and things like that. It’s so academically focused, too, which is so cool because you get kind of the best of both worlds. Just being a part of both of those, it’s been a major impact.  

Do you have a favorite memory or experience from your time in high school? 

Just being able to make friendships and the other people I’ve gotten to know through student training, through HOSA and through the people I hope I’ve been able to impact through what I’ve been able to do. I went from my freshman year not knowing anybody — coming in shy, timid, that sort of person — and then senior [year], I have people walking down the hallway and being like, “Hey, Amanda!” Everybody that I got to know, I think [is] the coolest memory.  

Can you tell me a little bit about HOSA and student training?   

All around, what HOSA is, is just getting students focused and prepared for careers in medicine, whether that be respiratory therapists [or] nursing. Anything you can really think of that is health care, they can have that. And you can go and compete in events … We had a team go to state this year and make it to nationals. So, now I’m stepping in at nationals and competing in the EMT competition.  

Lynden High School has a program where, under the direction of Mr. [Duane] Korthuis, if you’ve taken a sportsman class, you can be what’s called a student trainer. You either get paired with the team, or you stay after school [to] help out in our training room where we do prevention of injuries and more like rehab of injuries.  

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your decision to pursue medicine?   

I think after the pandemic, people were definitely more like, “Are you sure you want to do that?” There’s a lot of things in that field right now that are really weird and messed up, and I don’t think that shied me away from it at all. My personal belief is that when people need help, people need help. You still have to be present and be willing to help.

Is there a teacher or staff member who has impacted you?  

I generally tend to do well in classes, so I tend to just have a lot of teachers that I generally enjoy. Mr. Korthuis is obviously a big one, just because I spent four years with him in my classes. Then, Mrs. Anderson, Mrs. Butenschoen, and a couple others are just major impacts. They all taught me different things. All things. I’m definitely going to take them to college and beyond that — that’s awesome.  


MERIDIAN HIGH SCHOOL

A photo of Zane Barrett from the back.
Zane Barrett is graduating from Meridian High School. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Zane Barrett

Organizations: First-in Training and Education (FITE)  

Interests/hobbies: Snowboarding, hiking, anything outdoors 

Post-grad plans: Wildland firefighter 

How did you get involved in firefighting?    

My sophomore year, I got recommended to the FITE program through NCTA [Northwest Career and Technical Academy] by my school counselor. I didn’t really have a whole lot of interest in firefighting at that point, but when I got into it, I started getting more and more into it. I was really interested in structural firefighting, but then the EMT aspect wasn’t as appealing to me. So, I knew some people that were doing wildland, and I started looking into it and just wanted to work outside and thought it would be a good fit. 

You’re going to be a wildland firefighter. Tell me about that. 

Starting in June, I am going to be going out … wherever the state hires us to go. I’ll be doing all 16-day tours with about four or five days off. I’ll be doing that until August to October, when the fire season ends, and then the offseason [I’ll] keep working odd jobs and hopefully ski. Within the next five years, I’d like to either be a faller or a smokejumper for wildland.

I’m going to be able to be working outside, which I love, and be able to give back to it, which will be really nice.  

What are your goals?  

I don’t really know what my long-term goal is. I figured this is a good way for me to do something that I love and then still have time to explore all the things and figure out what I want more.  

Is there a teacher or staff member who has impacted you?  

Last year, one of my FITE instructors, Erik Simonsen, definitely had a big impact on me. He just helped push me and helped to kind of inspire me to really look at careers I’m going into, and made me put more effort toward my school outside of FITE, as well. Just kind of got me to care a little bit more, I would say.   

How does it feel to be leaving high school?   

I didn’t think that it was going to feel as big as it is feeling. School was never really a big thing for me throughout my years, but now that I’m here, it definitely feels good to have this accomplishment.  

What advice would you give a younger student or to your younger self?   

Just worry less about what people think. It really doesn’t matter. That was something I worried about. I fretted over too much when I was younger — other people’s opinions. It really comes down to just however you feel.


Kiana Jimenez-Sanchez posing with cheering pom-poms.
Kiana Jimenez-Sanchez is graduating from Meridian High School. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Kiana Jimenez Sanchez

Organizations: Meridian cheer, leadership  

Interests/hobbies: Mental health 

Post-grad plans: Western Washington University to compete on the cheer team and study psychology with the intent of working in mental health

How do you feel about graduation?   

I’m so excited. I’ve never been so excited to leave. I love the school. I grew up in that environment, but I feel like I’m so ready to start a new chapter, move on … I’m also scared at the same time. I think high school and college are very different, and I worry about how I will adapt with college, but I think it’ll be OK. I think there’ll be more freedom. I’m very excited overall.  

What was your high school experience like at Meridian?  

My first year of high school, I wasn’t involved at all. So I did drama club, but that was about it. I was really closed off; I didn’t talk a lot. I was super shy. My sophomore year, I joined cheer and leadership at the same time, and it’s completely changed me overall. I’m way more confident. I think leadership has just taught me to love giving services to others. Cheer has built me to have strength, physically and mentally.

What do you plan to do at Western?  

I want to go into psychology, but I don’t know if I want to get more specific, like social work, possibly. I think for me, my purpose here is to help other people. I feel if I’m not helping other people, I’ll go insane. I want to work as either a therapist or a social worker or counseling — something along those lines, as well as cheering. I just recently had tryouts, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In college, it’s very different from high school cheer. I just found out that I made the team last month.  

What inspired you to pursue psychology?

I have a single mother and two sisters and my little brother. My two sisters are in middle school. My little brother’s about to turn 2. It’s just my mom, and I’m the oldest kid. So I feel like I am another parent at home. I think I’ve always kind of been that therapist friend for other people … I’m Hispanic. My grandparents came over here, and they wanted to give us a better life than what they had. So, I think it’s just pushed me to help other people.

I think mental health has been totally pushed to the side. I feel like it’s always been a priority for me. Since I was little, too, I’ve always cared about other people, and I just want to see other people be OK. I think we have a really huge mental health crisis right now, and there’s a lot of people with a degree in psychology, yet we don’t have a lot of help for people who struggle with mental health.  

Do you have a teacher or a staff member who’s had a particular impact on you?  

I would definitely have to say the drug and alcohol counselor [Katie Miller] that we have. I don’t do drugs or alcohol, but she’s a really great counselor. I strive to do her job and be like her.


MOUNT BAKER HIGH SCHOOL

A photo of Edith Contreras-Moreno.
Edith Contreras-Moreno is graduating from Mount Baker High School. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Edith Contreras-Moreno

Organizations: Co-president of National Honor Society, Mount Baker varsity soccer; varsity basketball; Blendz choir; peer mentor  

Interests/hobbies: Soccer, music, politics  

Post-grad plans: University of Pennsylvania through the Quest Bridge scholarship to study international relations, political science and history  

What do you like about Mount Baker and the community?   

It’s very tightknit. Everybody knows each other, which also comes in handy when you need something. I also like the amount of little groups that we have, even though there’s not a lot in them, you still get a very good, round, full experience of all the things you want to do, from [Future Farmers of America] to sports to drama.

Is there a teacher or staff member who has impacted you?  

All the teachers are wonderful, but very specifically, my English teacher [Lalani Pitts]. I’ve had her in my honors English class since 11th grade, and she has been such a wonderful addition to my life recently, just getting everything figured out for college. She is definitely one of the leaders that I look up to. Then, my choir teacher [Linda Moore]. I have known her since I was in seventh grade, so we’ve formed a very close bond. And, being a small school, you’re close with everybody, but she’s definitely helped me come to terms with the fact that even in a small school, we all have a different role.  

How does it feel to be leaving the Mount Baker School District?  

It’s wonderful in the sense that whatever awaits me, it’s going to be so exciting. But, it’s also very sad, just because I’ve grown close with everybody that you know. You’re leaving your childhood.  

You’ll be attending the University of Pennsylvania, a private Ivy League university. What was the process like to get in?   

It was a process. I signed up for a specific scholarship; it’s called the Quest Bridge scholarship. If you got selected, you were able to get a full ride to one of the biggest schools in the nation. My English teacher is the one who was like, “Maybe this is a good path for you. I think you’d do amazing in it.” So, we submitted the application, and then you get to pick your top 15 schools. I’ve always wanted to go to the East Coast to study. I think it’s just the history; everything about it is wonderful.  

Why are you interested in pursuing politics as a career?   

I think it has to do a lot with how I’ve grown up. My parents are Hispanic, so I’ve seen the side of how that has had an impact on our lives — how we have to interact with people, how sometimes we are perceived, how things sometimes go wrong. So, it’s definitely created a drive within me to want to fix some of those certain issues and try to make future generations’ lives a little bit easier in the chaos that is the world.  

What advice would you give to your younger self or to a younger student?  

Don’t overthink things. I think that one is a big one that I would give to my younger self, just because not everything is black and white. There’s more than just one story to every story. Then to just younger kids in general: Act as if you were in kindergarten and make friends with everybody. I mean, high school is a scary place for any kid.   


A side photo of Michael Sortino.
Michael Sortino is graduating from Mount Baker High School. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Michael Sortino

Organizations: Vice president of Computer Science club, National Honor Society, Drama Club  

Interests/hobbies: Science, math, game development, software development, art   

Post-grad plans: University of Washington to study math or computer science, goal to become a math teacher  

Tell me about yourself:

Most of my specialties [are] in math and science and that sort of thing. In terms of my personal life, I work a lot in software and game development. I’ve been teaching myself for the past few years, so that’s fun. I also dabble in a lot of art in my spare time.

Last year, I was vice president of my school’s computer science club, which was honestly a really fun opportunity. We mostly focus on doing smaller projects, helping people learn computer science. It was a really fun experience to be able to help a lot of people develop those skills and to act as a bit of a leader in that position.  

What interests you about computer science and software and game development?  

I think it’s a lot of being able to create something that a lot of people can engage with. There’s something special about computer science and game development, where you are creating something that other people can interact with. Say, it’s a game — you can convey so many stories and different ideas to people in a way that they can engage with. In software development, it gives you a chance to create something that will help a lot of people. A lot of those tools are nice to just help people do things easily.  

How do you feel about graduation?  

Little nervous, not going to lie. I’m certainly looking forward to it. It’ll be nice to be able to have a nice send off from high school and be able to take those steps into my future. I certainly will miss a lot of the people around my school and the community.  

Is there a teacher or staff member who has impacted you?  

I think this year in particular, one teacher, Mr. [Mike] Lembo. He teaches calculus and math. I think he really opened my eyes to what the ideal is for a teacher. He takes teaching seriously. He really enjoys doing what he does. You can tell from the way he teaches, and he knows how to convey the material he teaches in a way that is helpful for everyone in the class. He knows that school isn’t necessarily the most important thing in someone’s life — especially as seniors, we have a ton of stuff going on. We’re preparing for college, and he is able to make the connections that help him understand like, OK, this person is going through something. I haven’t really seen another teacher be able to do.

What advice would you give to your younger self or to a younger student?

I think mostly to not be afraid to push yourself. Over a lot of my years in high school, I was really complacent — just do what you have to do to get the grades. I do really wish that I would have pushed myself to go out there, explore more options, take on more challenges than I did.   


Note: In assembling this section, CDN also sought out graduates from Lynden Christian, which chose not to participate, and Nooksack Valley, which did not recommend students by our deadline. We would love to include both next year.

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