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Nashara Ellerbee — Teachers, coaches steered all-star athlete, scholar to sail to CSU; Wilson Harper — With his black belt and IB Diploma, University of Scotland awaits

(Cover photo: Northfield High School graduating class of 2024. Photo courtesy of Northfield High School.)

Central Park Education News is publishing profiles of eight outstanding 2024 graduates of Northfield High School.  Profiles of Nashara Ellerbee and Wilson Harper follow an overview of the class of 2024.

Hundreds of parents, relatives and friends packed the University of Denver’s Ritchie Center May 18 to celebrate Northfield High School’s class of 2024.

It is Northfield’s sixth and largest class with 375 seniors.

More than 134 of the graduates received International Baccalaureate Diplomas for completing the rigorous program. They were signified by white hoods draped on their gowns, with most of those also adorned with gold and white cords recognizing their achievement as National Honor Society and Cum Laude (academic honors) graduates.

The Class of 2024 Valedictorian is Ava Vasquez; the Salutatorian is Quin Tettero.

This year’s student speakers were Grant Thornham, Danea Sutton, Cassandra Ungemah, Kaden Montoya, Keegan Shouse, Nataly Ramos-Gutierrez and Stu Co. Students auditioned for the privilege of speaking.

Other designations among the graduates were 172 cum laude, 30 Seal of Biliteracy, two DPS Retired Employees Association scholarship winners Ava Vasquez and Quin Tettero ($10,000 scholarships, each renewable for an additional three years totaling a possible award of $40,000), and one Boettcher Scholar, Sammy Berman.

Unprecedented problems this year in the FAFSA process, the federal application that helps determine how much financial aid students qualify for, has delayed accurate tallies of what percentage of graduates applied and were accepted to what number of colleges, or the total of merit-based and other scholarships that were awarded.

For reference, in 2023, 89% of the class applied and 85% were accepted to 74 different colleges. Last year seniors received a total of $16.4 million in merit-based scholarships.

Graduation regalia and meanings:

Red & Yellow Cord: Asian American Pacific Islander Club

Cultural Cord: Arab American Heritage Club

Kente Cloth Stole: Black Student Alliance Club

Cultural Stole Club: La Raza

Lavender Cord: Gender Sexuality Alliance Club

Blue & White Cord: DECA

Maroon Cord: HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America)

Gold & Silver Cord: Seal of Biliteracy

Medal: Student Board of Education

Red & Gold Cord: Spanish National Honor Society

Gold & Navy Cord: International Thespian Society

Rainbow Stoles: National Art Honor Society

Gold Cord: National Honor Society

White Hood: IB Diploma Candidate

White Cord: Cum Laude

Nashara Ellerbee — Teachers, coaches steered all-star athlete, scholar to sail beyond NHS

 Nashara Ellerbee sees her life like a boat sailing from her birthplace in North Carolina to Montbello, on to anchor in Northfield High’s IB and sports programs, and now on a heading for Colorado State University in the fall.

2024 NHS grad Nashara Ellerbee.

And she stayed the course at Northfield as crew to able captains without whom she may have lost her bearings, and perhaps not earned her International Baccalaureate Diploma.

There is Sydney Price, her Nighthawk basketball coach, “who has opened my eyes when it comes to my leadership and taking the role.”

And Keane Sumner, Nashara’s psychology teacher, who was “very real about psychology and told me that he could see me being a psychologist because of my passion for helping others.’’

Then there’s volleyball coach Tammy Campbell “who definitely embedded in me that I can do whatever I put my mind to.’’

And when her math shortcomings got her down junior year, her teacher Carilou Obligacion, “just shifted my whole mindset to not look at a problem and say, ‘I can’t do it.’ Look and dissect the problem, and then start to solve it.’’

And of course, Ezekiel Ocansey, an assistant principal and athletic director, who can be seen most morning’s joyfully careening around campus in a golf cart. “He is a bright soul who has told me I have the potential to be great.’’

After a close loss (69-63 to Roosevelt High in Windsor) in Northfield’s first finals appearance in the girl’s state basketball tournament in March, “he just said: There’s only one Nashara Ellerbee and you made history at Northfield.”

Nashara used the boating analogy as the theme of a three-minute, no-notes speech that she gave to win her club, city, metro Denver and state contests of the Boys and Girls Clubs competition called “Youth of the Year.” She qualified for the national contest in June in Dallas where she has a chance to win a full-ride scholarship.

“Boys and Girls Club was that home for me (since age 6) and how I was able to build connections and relationships,’’ Nashara says, “So now I’m kind of stepping into a new journey where I’m using my own voice and finding where I can fit in.”

Nashara’s “home’’ is the Denver Broncos Girls and Boys Club in Montbello where she lives. It is something of a family tradition: an aunt is the club’s assistant director, other family members are alums.

Nashara and her cousin Naja’ “Ray Ray,” West, help organize an annual club “March for Peace,’’ a community-building 5K around Montbello High School “to show the positive things in Montbello.

“Lots of times you see on the news a shooting or something like that,’’ she says. “And we know what’s not always seen. We want to spread light on the exceptional youth here.’’

They have some enviable assistance.

“You know who (All-Pro Bronco safety) Justin Simmons is?’’ she asked. “We have a connection with him. We call him our brother. He helps with anything that’s needed.”

Nashara’s athletic and academic prowess blossomed at Northfield. They go together for her.

“It was hard balancing academics because I don’t want to say the classes here were harder, but I didn’t learn the content that I would need at my middle school,’’ she says. “You have to stay eligible to play sports.’’

The COVID pandemic forced her freshman year in 2020 online which accentuated the shortcomings of her earlier education.

“I had to get lots of help in math and English,” she says. “They had lots of support from the teachers . . . before and after school. That helped me stay on track.’’

It paid off as Nashara earned a 4.3 GPA (weighted for more challenging courses) along with her IB Diploma.

Her basketball prowess became evident in ninth grade when she made varsity during COVID. “It was hard running with masks on,’’ says the 6’1” power forward.

Sophomore year it was varsity volleyball. Her senior year in basketball she earned first team all-conference honors and was chosen 5A DPS Player of the Year. The team went 24-4 and was the first DPS team to make the title game in 14 years.

For Nashara, who is Black and Native American on her mother’s side, and coming from a majority Black and Hispanic neighborhood, Northfield’s predominantly white neighborhood “was definitely more of a culture shock for me.”

But she found that with the school’s numerous clubs, sports teams, the IB program and talented staff that “everyone has somewhere they belong.

“The campus is very diverse, and you see everyone getting together,” Nashara says. “The school just makes it comfortable for everyone to be involved.”

(The Foundation for Sustainable Urban Communities gives grants to the Northfield High School International Baccalaureate program.)

Wilson Harper — With his black belt and IB Diploma, University of Scotland awaits

The International Baccalaureate Program at Northfield High School can be stressful – demanding courses, consuming so much time, straining mental and emotional endurance.

Wilson Harper found his relief in a dobok.

2024 NHS grad Wilson Harper

“I do martial arts,” the IB Diploma graduate said. “I’ve found it’s very integral for me being able to do IB well because it helps me manage stress.

“It’s a mixture of karate and TaeKwonDo (dobok is its uniform) and some other stuff that’s philosophically very interesting. It’s a lot of mental strength, but then also compassion and that type of stuff.

“I’m actually testing for my black belt this summer.’’

Like most of his classmates, the tall and slender Wilson, is off to college in the fall. Unlike most, he is headed to a distant time zone. He will attend the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

The university was founded in 1451, fourth oldest English-speaking university in the world. It is a member of the British Russell Group, which is considered the UK equivalent of the Ivy League, according to higher education publications. It is recognized for its research initiatives with one of its four colleges focused on engineering.

That’s what, in part, attracted Wilson who attended Swigert (elementary) and McAuliffe (middle) international schools. Engineering is what prompted him to choose Northfield.

“When I toured here, it was the only school that really had a technological or engineering-based class,” he says.

For his first three years, Northfield’s engineering program was led by a teacher named Patrick Thornton who inspired Wilson to pursue the field further. Thornton left to work for the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

“They’re trying to find a replacement, but it’s very hard to find engineering teachers,” Wilson says. “They can make a lot more money elsewhere.”

He worked on several projects including one with Lockheed Martin to build drones from scratch. “It showed me that I enjoyed engineering and that’s what I wanted to do.”

As for Northfield overall, “for me, it has been a very good school. The IB is a very good program because it gives you a very well-rounded education.”

Wilson wants to go into energy engineering; he finds nuclear fusion particularly interesting. At Glasgow he will pursue a mechanical engineering degree “because that opens up a lot of doors if I decide I want to change,’’ he says.

Wilson was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Denver. His father, Craig Wilson, is staff director for the state Legislature’s joint budget committee, and his mother, Claire Wilson, works for the U.S. Forest Service. His sister, Ceclia, is a freshman at Northfield.

Wilson did a lot of research on colleges and having lived in the United States his whole life, he thought Europe offered a good change. He visited Scotland then decided on Glasgow.

“It was just a really nice school,’’ he says. “I mean, the (main) building’s a castle, which is pretty fun. And then of course, they have all the classes I want.”

He received an academic scholarship (his weighted GPA is 5.028) but as it turns out, Glasgow “is cheaper than going to CU in state by a decent amount,’’ he said. He’ll do a five-year program for a master’s degree with a research focus on renewable energy.

As confident as he is in his decision, moving nearly 5,000 miles an ocean away does conjure some apprehensions.

“It’s kind of scary to think that in only three or four months I’m going to be moving across the world, but I also think that it’s the right thing for me to do and I think that I’ll enjoy it once I get used to it,’’ he said.

(The Foundation for Sustainable Urban Communities gives grants to Northfield High School’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Program.)

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