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PELA Graduates

We provide our students with a wide range of skills to help them thrive no matter what they do after they graduate. Here are some profiles of our graduates and what they are doing

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Mia Stolmeier

PELA senior gets full ride to Colorado College, among nation’s best

Mia Stolmeier recognized the feeling as soon as it washed over her.

She and her classmates had finished raking the quarter-acre yard of an elderly Paonia couple, when she found out the students’ service work would be a surprise, discovered when the couple came home later that day.

“It just made me feel really good, and happy that I got to help,” said Mia, who will graduate from Paonia Experiential Leadership Academy in June.

That’s the feeling Mia hopes to capture in a career of service to others, perhaps one in psychology, healing or research.

Mia intends to major in psychology at Colorado College, one of the nation’s best liberal arts colleges, which offered Mia a full-ride financial package next school year.

“It’s incredible,” said Jessie Zimmerman, Mia’s mom. “I’m not surprised, but it exceeds my expectations. I’m just so proud of her.”

Zimmerman credited Mia’s experiences over four years at PELA with preparing her for CC, and for giving her the confidence to apply. 

The private Colorado Springs college has just a 14 percent acceptance rate, and ranked 27th in U.S. News’ 2022 list of national liberal arts colleges. Tuition and fees are $65,028, and room and board cost $14,376,

Zimmerman said her daughter had always worked hard at school, overcoming struggles with reading and writing that made her elementary years especially difficult.

When the family found out about PELA, and its student-centered, experiential approach to learning, they decided Mia should start in ninth grade. After four years of a hands-on education, focused on leadership, wellbeing, service and situations outside of her comfort zone – “like public speaking, or hiking two miles through snow” -- Mia has had to “dig deep” and is now well-prepared for the challenges ahead, her mom said.

“I think that PELA has a sneaky way of challenging students, and they don't really realize the capacity of the challenge until they’re faced with it again outside of the school,” Zimmerman said.

Dr. Emily Wassell, director of PELA and herself a CC alum, credited Mia’s hard work, kindness and good attitude for her success. She said Mia improves the quality of any class or group she participates in, and will continue to have a positive influence over her peers.

“I’m overjoyed to know what opportunities she’ll have, and to know that she’ll have the support to make her dreams come true,” Wassell said.

With just 2,266 undergraduate students, Colorado College has a 10:1 student/faculty ratio, and fewer than 20 students in 68 percent of its classes.

Mia said she’s excited for several of the classes she might choose from, as well as travel and study-abroad opportunities. She said she pictures herself maybe going into the Peace Corps after college, then focusing on a career helping others.

“I feel really proud of myself, and I feel like all I needed was to be believed in,” she said.


Liza Eller

PELA Graduate Thrives in New York City Theater and Dance school

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Every single day I am in awe of the things I didn’t even know I picked up from going to this school. PELA is about learning when you don’t even know you are learning. Moving to New York City and going to acting school, I questioned at times if I was ready for this big change and worried that everyone would be smarter than me or more mature or simply just “better than me”. As I have now come to realize this has not been proven to be true in any way shape or form, and I think a lot of it had to do with everything I didn’t even know I picked up from PELA. 

What I mean by this is, simply being in a school during your prime years of growth with a group of genuinely supportive and loving friends, peers, and teachers, in which you have to face real challenges, whether it be trying to figure out a science experiment, or supporting your friends in pushing through the freezing snow to make it to top of the mountain when you all feel like giving up or learning about conflict management. These are just a few of the moments that taught me the real lessons that I didn’t even know I needed. 

Coming to school in New York I was baffled to find out that not everyone else in the world had learned how to have meaningful connections or how to be an effective leader. At PELA I learned things like self monitoring skills, time management skills, relationship tools, how to work as a team, and how to truly love someone, these are the attributes that have set me apart from others and allowed me to have opportunities. These are the lessons that I have used every single day without a doubt. These teachings shaped my moral compass and made me who I am.

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