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FARMINGTON – “It’s actually really fun, but it’s a lot of hard work.” That’s how recent graduate Sepphora Llanes describes her experience at San Juan College High School.

Llanes knows a lot about hard work. Not only did she drive an hour to the school from Durango, Colorado, every day with her mother, who teaches there, but in December 2019 Llanes graduated a semester early, making her the school's very first graduate.

Opened in 2016, San Juan College High School is located within the San Juan College campus. It is operated by the Farmington Municipal School District as a public high school that partners with three other school districts in San Juan County to allow students to take college courses to obtain an associate degree while concurrently getting their high school diploma.

Llanes, who attended Tibbets Middle School in Farmington for a year before moving to Durango in eighth grade, said she first heard of the school from her mother, Geizi Dejka, who was applying for a job there at the time.

Llanes mother had taught at both Newcomb High School and Piedra Vista High School for several years.

After an interview with the school’s principal, and a successful selection from the lottery system that the school uses to accept students because of the high demand for a limited number of spots at the school, Llanes was accepted.

Later, her mother got the job teaching physical science and biology classes.

“It sounded like any other high school,” Llanes said, “until I got there and realized it isn’t like any other high school.”

At the school, Llanes obtained an associate degree in liberal arts.

“I originally wanted to be a historian,” Llanes said, “but I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day.”

Through both a counselor at the high school, and a counselor at the college, which students at the high school have access to, Llanes eventually found her way to anthropology. She studied under San Juan College anthropology professor Andrea Cooper.

During her studies Llanes said she was able to narrow her interest in the field of anthropology down to cultural anthropology, the study of human societies and cultures and their development — a topic which she now studies as her major as a freshman student at Fort Lewis College in Durango.

“I’m very proud of her,” said San Juan College High School Principal Don Lorett, “She’s been a great trailblazer for the school. She’s everything we’d want a San Juan College High School student to be.”

Llanes said that she was “already set up for college life,” because of her experience at San Juan College High School, with its small class sizes, staff support, and academic rigor.

Llanes said that she could see some of her peers at Fort Lewis College struggle with adjusting to college life because they might not have had the opportunity to attend similar programs.

“Sometimes school did get overwhelming,” Llanes said, “at one point I did cry over math… but I don’t think it was too much pressure.”  

Llanes hopes to travel after college, and then work for a museum, especially one of the Smithsonian Institution’s museums in Washington, D.C., and maybe, in the future, apply to the University of New Mexico’s graduate program in anthropology.  

Sam Ribakoff is a visual journalist for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 or via email at sribakoff@daily-times.com.

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