Cap and gown bound: Dakota Ridge High School senior prepares for next steps

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By Deborah Swearingen

Editor’s note: This is the first story in a series honoring impressive graduates across South Jeffco. Throughout May, we will profile one senior a week from Dakota Ridge High School, Chatfield Senior High School, D’Evelyn Jr/Sr High School and Columbine High School.


As Leslie Alvarez worked a challenging integral in the library of Dakota Ridge High School, her face lit up when she realized she knew the answer.

If there is one scenario that best describes the graduating senior, it is this one. Alvarez, 17, loves to learn, and she really loves math.

“I’m kind of a nerd,” Alvarez said, grinning.

While she’s proud to proclaim this love of learning, it certainly does not go unnoticed by others.

“One of the things that sets Leslie apart from others is she really appreciates the learning process,” said Levi Bartholomew, who taught Alvarez for several years in Dakota’s International Baccalaureate program, and recently accompanied Alvarez and others on a trip to China.

“She really enjoys that part. … It’s not just about the outcome and the letter grade at the end of the day,” he added.

Her math teacher, Abby Letourneau, echoed many of the same sentiments. Every day, Letourneau can count on words of gratitude from Alvarez as she exits the classroom.

“You don’t get that from every student,” Letourneau said. “She really has, like, a love of learning. Not just math but learning in general.”

Alvarez is incredibly involved at school and otherwise. She is a member of the National Honor Society, a fierce competitor on Dakota’s mock trial team and a soon-to-be graduate of the IB program.

Additionally, Alvarez loves spending time with her family and works as the event coordinator for the youth group at her iglesia on Federal Boulevard in Denver. She is bilingual and learned Spanish first. Through her faith, Alvarez is able to connect with her Hispanic culture.

“I hope to be a diverse thinker and open to different perspectives,” she said. “Because, you know, I do live in Littleton, and it’s very much homogenous in terms of race. … But I also do have this Hispanic culture behind me, and I get to kind of interact with that a lot at church and in my spirituality.”

Her teachers recognize Alvarez as thoughtful and compassionate.

For Letourneau, a memorable example of this came just a few months after the pair met. Though she had only known Letourneau — then very pregnant — for a few months, Alvarez rallied her class to give their teacher a baby gift.

“She’s not looking for the recognition,” Letourneau said. “She did it because she’s a nice person.”

“I feel like I am at a loss for words because she’s so amazing,” the math teacher added.

A piece of advice

To the younger version of herself, Alvarez recommends taking a breather and letting loose a bit.

“Be a little bit more spontaneous and less rigid and scheduled,” she said. “ … I wish I had told myself that earlier so I could have more of those spontaneous experiences that high school’s really all about. You know, that stage in your life before you get a lot of responsibility on your plate. I think that that’s really beautiful, and it’s something we should cherish.”

Organization may come naturally to Alvarez, but she’s also creative and enjoys party planning for her nieces and nephews and tackling do-it-yourself projects.

A glimpse inside her closet provides a window into these strengths intertwined. The closet is arranged by the type of clothing and intricately color-coded.

Each of these strengths, however, will likely suit her well as she moves west to study integrative physiology and molecular biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

But do not fear, Littleton. You will always be home for Alvarez. As of now, she plans to return to the area after college.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.