Doing High School the Unconventional Way

Senior Casey DiNicola shares his experience of spending his spring of junior year at school in Colorado.

Changing schools, especially as an upperclassman, is a stressful and frightening idea for most high school students. Casey DiNicola is not most students.

Feeling stagnant in Hopkinton, DiNicola was hungry for new experiences. That was exactly what he found at High Mountain Institute in Colorado, and more.

Having previously done a few backpacking trips in Colorado, it felt like a home away from home.

“I was at a point in my life that left me feeling ungrounded. And in Colorado I found traction again,” DiNicola said.

At HMI, his days consisted of running a few miles each day, followed by chores, then classes with a break for lunch. Through school, he backpacked, climbed, and skied as part of the curriculum.

“I really fell in love with the place and people immediately and didn’t feel homesick often,” DiNicola said about the transition.

He was able to form close relationships with his peers right off the bat, making for a smooth transition. However, back at home, his younger brother Owen was having a hard time adjusting to his being gone.

“Having Casey gone was not ideal. My oldest brother, Ryan, was gone as well, leaving me bored and alone in the house,” the youngest DiNicola said.

The younger brother was not able to hear from the older very often, as HMI did not allow students to have phones and only allowed calls every couple of weeks.

DiNicola’s decision to attend HMI shocked his younger sibling.

“He had always seemed shy and held back, I would’ve never expected it,” Owen DiNicola said.

Owen was not the only one missing Casey. Inseparable since preschool, it felt weird for Jack Howard to not have DiNicola living a couple houses down.

“He told me at the end of summer that he was leaving for Colorado second semester,” Howard said. “At first, I was a little confused because he had never even mentioned the opportunity or school that he was applying for, but once I saw how excited he was about doing it, I was extremely happy for him.”

While DiNicola missed his close friends and family back home, he was having unbelievable experiences at HMI every day, surrounded by people 24/7.

“It truly broadened my perspective on life and the possibilities within it, and I think it will be influencing my life for the foreseeable future,” DiNicola said.

One way HMI has influenced DiNicola is his choice to enroll at Colorado College next year. If he never attended this program, he would not have found the school of his dreams.

“I wouldn’t know about Colorado College without HMI As soon as I toured CC with HMI, I knew it was the only college I could see myself attending,” DiNicola said.

Coming back to Hopkinton, however, was not easy.

“Transitioning back was ten times harder than adjusting to HMI. I went from having super intense, unbelieve experiences surrounded by people every day to spending a lot of time alone during the summer,”  DiNicola said. “And leaving behind the close relationships I had been forming over the semester was much harder than I anticipated.”

HMI’s impact is reaching further than just DiNicola. Before his brother left, Owen never thought he could leave behind his friends and everything he’s ever known for a semester. Yet, he recently submitted his application to the Island School, a program in the Bahamas similar to HMI.

“I was so happy for him,” Howard said.“He finally grew a passion for the western United States and found his dream college. I’m glad he’s able to continue his academic career out where he belongs.”