On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, ATLAS Leadership Academy (ATLAS) student Colten Buys delivered a speech at PCF’s Annual Donor Appreciation Event. His moving testimony about the positive impact the school has had on his learning and life outlook received a standing ovation from all in the room. Below is a transcript of his speech.

Colten Buys addressing donors at PCF’s Donor Appreciation Event on January 21, 2020.

Hello, my name is Colten Buys, and I am here to talk to you on behalf of ATLAS. I am a junior at ATLAS, and came there as a sophomore because I was falling behind in my classes [in public school] and the learning system was not working for me. I often times was kicked out of class for making noise. I have ADHD but wasn’t diagnosed at the time. I was so distracted in class that I was finding myself trying to take tests on material that I had never heard before… and that’s not great because you don’t typically pass a test when you haven’t seen or heard what it’s about!

I knew that was going on for a while and it became more and more apparent to me, and my parents, that I needed a change to how I was learning. We tried a couple different programs similar to ATLAS, but they did not work out too well for me. So when we heard about ATLAS, I was a first kinda skeptical and wasn’t sure I could put full trust in the program yet, and so I wasn’t super happy about being on campus all the time. But in just over a month, I ended up being taken on a trip to Zion National Park in Utah. I got to go to Zion with nine other students. We had all sorts of fun and something changed for me on that trip where I felt this program was right for me.

Colten Buys at Zion National Park during ATLAS Leadership Academy trip.

When I was writing my essay for Zion, and thinking about how it [ATLAS] compared to all my other schoolwork, it felt so much more inclusive and more tailored to you. Like It is designed to give you the help that YOU need to do well in school. Because of ATLAS I have been better able to cope with my ADHD without distracting others or disrupting everyone else’s learning environment. That is a huge benefit to me and others around me just because, well, they’re not being distracted!

Another benefit that I found with ATLAS, you don’t have to give up a lot of the things you enjoyed in public school. When I was going to public school I liked to run a lot and did track and cross country. When going to a school outside public school I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do those things that I liked so much. But at ATLAS, they have a relationship with Lincoln High School which allows you to do sports for Lincoln. So I was able to go back and do track there last year and I ended up breaking five minutes in the mile… which is kinda cool as a sophomore!

Colten Buys running at at the 2019 Del Oro Track & Field Invitational.

I want you all to know that [it is] because of ATLAS that I had that success. I was able to do sports and not fall behind in my schoolwork. With ATLAS, not only did I improve physically in the sport, I also improved as a person. I know that for many others who do sports at ATLAS have had very much the same experience. You’ve learned not only to do sports but learned the self-discipline to get home after practice and go right into what you need to do for school. Mr. Salinger has taught me a lot about how to do that… we may have had a rough start, but we got it down.

Looking back on it, I can honestly say that ATLAS went above and beyond for me for educating me like school is supposed to do, but it helped me develop my character. Being there I’ve learned a lot about myself, what works for me, and how I can be most effective. It’s just an amazing school. It’s brought me from struggling in school to excelling. And I know that many of the other kids there have had much the same experience.

Now, in high school, I’m actually trying to slow down, keep a manageable pace in school so I still have time to do track. It’s a weird struggle to have I know!

I always thought that graduation [from high school] for me was little to no chance… but now I am as sure of it as the sun rising in the morning. Before ATLAS I never would have even dreamed of applying for college, or of being accepted. Now with ATLAS I know that I have potential… and I can fulfill that potential. I want to go to college to obtain a degree in music production and would like to start a record company after that. This only would be made possible for me because of ATLAS and contributions from people like you [PCF donors].

Thank you from me and all the students at ATLAS.

Pictured from left to right: ATLAS Leadership Academy Director Adam Salinger, Colten Buys, Tessa Buys, and Carrie Elzea.


Following the event, PCF received a thank you message from Adam Salinger, Director at ATLAS Learning Academy and Colten’s independent study teacher.

“I can’t thank you enough for inviting Colten to speak tonight. It was yet another turning point in that young man’s life. Colten has so much potential and will be so much fun to watch as he moves through life while in high school and beyond. Tonight’s opportunity to share his story was truly a dose a self-confidence. Being asked to speak was big itself. Nailing his speech and getting a standing ovation… I was speechless… and for the first time since I met Colten, he was too.”

About PCF’s Support for ATLAS

The Placer Community Foundation supported ATLAS Learning Academy with two grants as part of its mission to support at-risk youth, healthy transitions to adulthood, and strengthening of Placer County’s future workforce. ATLAS was selected as a 2019 grant recipient by The Giving Circle and the Cardno-Silvers Fund.

More About ATLAS Learning Academy

ATLAS Learning Academy serves K-12 students who are wanting an alternative to a traditional classroom. Through independent study, ATLAS helps students achieve their learning potential by using a hybrid teaching model designed to provide customized and active learning. The acronym ATLAS stands for Achievement Through Leadership Adventure and Service, which demonstrates the emphasis on high academic achievement, leadership, character development, outdoor education/project-based learning and teamwork. Visit atlas.wpusd.org for more information.


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