Genevieve Moyé, 17
Genevieve left Manitou Springs High School to be a home-schooler before joining Proprius. She says she was a good student until high school, when something changed.
"I was just so overwhelmed and nothing was really clicking," she says.
Genevieve's passion is art. She hopes to one day attend the California Institute of the Arts, a school that grew out of Walt Disney's vision. It has a robust program for cartoonists, which is what Genevieve would like to pursue. She'd like to one day work on animated films and graphic novels.
For now, though, she's focusing on earning her GED and working at her first job, as a baker at Mountain Mama Natural Foods.
"It's really great because I never got the chance to do something like this while I was in school, because, you know, I didn't have a flexible schedule," she says. "And I'm really learning a lot about life in general from having a job. And they don't teach you that kind of thing in school, like taxes and how to manage money."
It was Genevieve's idea to get a job, though Proprius has been supportive of the choice. She hasn't spent much time at the center since going into the workforce, but plans to start attending a couple days a week soon.
Kathryn 'Katy' Mushak, 16
Before joining Proprius in January, Katy was attending Colorado Springs Early Colleges, and failing most of her classes. She was bored. Now, she says, she hopes to pursue a career as an apothecary, and eventually open her own shop.
"I was on some pills for some health issues and they wanted to put me on, like, three or four of them, and on one of them I couldn't even function," she says. "So I needed to start finding some other things I could take to substitute those pills. ... And so I started doing research on herbs, and tinctures and all the different home remedies."
Katy hopes to take some college classes or apprentice under an herbalist, and to be certified by the time she is 18. She has a list of people to contact, but hasn't met with any of them yet. She has been doing some reading on the subject, and experimenting on herself and her family members. She says she hopes to make her first tinctures soon.
She does miss seeing her friends at school, but Katy says she's been adjusting to her new environment at Proprius and likes it.
"Here, I can sit down and learn what I want. If I want to learn music for the day, I can sit down and learn music. If I want to learn about the outdoors, I can go outside and go learn. I'm not stuck sitting in a classroom for an hour, looking at a board while a teacher speaks."
Audrianna 'Anna' Fowler, 17
After leaving a traditional school — where she says she felt targeted by staff — Anna tried out an online program but didn't like it.
"I like to be in contact with the teacher, like one-on-one," she says.
Proprius is a good fit, Anna says, because she already has specific career goals: She wants to be a tattoo artist and eventually own her own shop. Since starting at Proprius she has interviewed several tattoo artists and paired up with one whom she hopes to go into business with eventually. She discovered that she'll need to take art and business classes and is planning to do so at Pikes Peak Community College in August. The college does not require students to have a GED or high school diploma to take courses.
Anna was a good student for much of her school career, but doesn't regret leaving.
"I think chemistry and certain math doesn't matter for what I want to do in my career," she says. Traditional schools, she adds, "don't show me taxes, budgeting, business — they have nothing like that, that I need to learn in life."
She does miss the social aspects of school, but has made friends with the other kids and staff at Proprius.
"It's chill here," she says. "The people here are really nice. And I like the instructors. I did not expect that. I thought they were going to be really hardcore and evil teachers, but they're really nice and open."
Aspen Sollenberger, 14
Aspen had a mixture of problems at Falcon Middle School. Most classes, she says, didn't challenge her.
"All the assignments were too easy and repetitive, and I was just done with it," she says. "I didn't really act out, because my teachers were all nice to me and I didn't really want to cause them more trouble. ... So I pretty much just listened to music on my phone all day, stared into space."
In math, it was a different story. She struggled with the subject and still sees a tutor in hopes of bringing up her skills.
She says her mom stumbled across Proprius. Aspen was initially a little wary.
"I think she, you know, had normal parent worries of GEDs and stuff like that," Aspen says. "Then when she got to learn a little bit more about what Proprius is, and how things are done, then she started to realize that it's just so much who I am and what I do, and it would be good for me."
Aspen has been focusing her studies on art and psychology. She also recently helped design the school's website (propriuslearning.org). She says she's not sure yet what career she might want to pursue, but has some ideas. For one thing, she says she's interested in human emotion and how the brain works, and will be taking psychology courses at Pikes Peak Community College in June.
"I'm still kind of looking," she says, "because I don't fully know what all my interests are."
Kody Mushak, 13
Kody says starting middle school was difficult. "When I went into sixth grade, the transitioning [to] the seven teachers was really hard for me because they're different teaching styles," he says. "I have to have one teaching style."
Like his sister, Kody tended to get in trouble, mostly for talking in class. "I wanted to socialize," he says.
Now that he's out of school, Kody says, he's a lot happier, though he does miss his friends and wishes there were other boys at Proprius. Kody has formed a close bond with "consultant" Charles Sjolander, which he says has been important to him because his father is "not in the picture right now" and hasn't been for two years.
"At first it was [hard]," he says of having his father gone. "And that's the reason why I was having so much trouble in school, was because I was bottling up that anger, and I just put it out on the teachers."
Kody has been working with Sjolander on a vegetable garden, and is interested in pursuing a career in biology or massage therapy. Asked what he likes best about Proprius, he says, "I'm learning from experience, and that was my problem in school. I wasn't getting enough experience to learn, so I would just forget all the stuff I learned."
He says an added bonus has come in the form of better relationships with his mom and sister Katy.