By Sharon McIntireOf the many rites of passages parents experience with their children, high school graduation is at the top of the list. It takes very little time for scholars to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, but during that short trip all the hills and valleys of the road it took to getthereflash through their parents’ eyes in a whirlwind of overwhelming emotions.Kary and Valerie Felt multiplied that by three as their triplets graduated from Carlsbad High School this year. Ifthat’s not overwhelming enough, they get to multiply it twice more. Since all three are graduating from the Carlsbad Early College High School (CECHS), they will also receive their two-year Associates Degrees from New Mexico State University-Carlsbad.Ysabel, Rex, and Olivia Felt come from a relaxed but tight-knit family. Their father Kary moved them from Idaho to Carlsbad in 2010 and works as a Nurse Practitioner at the Carlsbad Family Health Center. Valerie settled the triplets into second grade at Monterrey Elementary while keeping a watchful eye on their high school brothers, Max and Lance. After the trio finished 5thgrade, they moved back to Idaho for a year, returning to Carlsbad in the 7thgrade.That turned out to have unfortunate results. “Common Core lied to us in more ways than one,” their mother laments, noting that they had to make up some, mostly history, classes. A bigger problem was that testing for advanced class placement is done in the 6thgrade. They weren’t there, so they weren’t tested.Rex relates, “They didtestingfor advanced class placement in 6thgrade, so we missed out on that. They wouldn’t let us do anything about that so, especially our math and science, they wouldn’t let us be in their up-ed classes because we didn’t do that testing.” Since they weren’t able to make that jump, they weren’t able to skip any classes. That, of course, affects their GPA, and therefore their class standing.Thankfully, it didn’t keep them from being selected for the CECHS program, where students who excel academically are given the opportunity to graduate with an Associate's Degree from NMSU-C the same year they complete their high school education.When applying for the CECHS program, each was asked if they would join if either of the others was not accepted. All agreed they would, but mom wasn’t so sure. “You can try that if you want,” she said, “but they are each the other’s resource.”For the first two years of the program the trio traipsed up to the college for classes held primarilyfrom 8-4 in what used to be the Computer Science Building. There they took accelerated schedules in their high school curriculum so they could complete that program in two years.“Some of the teachers at PR Leyva kind of discouraged the early college because they said you’d miss out on the high school experience,” Ysabel related, “but it’s literally a high school, except it’s a little bit faster.”“I really enjoyed the speed –how fast-paced it was,” Rex commented. “It didn’t feel like we were doing anything faster than like the high school, but we did. Like our English and math classes -instead of a year we did them in a semester.”They also took a few college classes during this time, and they were required to do an internship with a business in the community. Olivia worked for her uncle at Riverview Dental Care, Rex interned at Presbyterian Medical Services, and Ysabel interned and still works for Southwest Pharmacy, where she will begin training as a pharmacy technician.These internships are carefully monitored. “They all had to turn in their hours,” Valerie noted, “and their bosses turned in evaluations at the end of their internship. These evaluations were very much included with their curriculum.”Ysabel added, “We were mostly finished with ourhigh school classes by then. Then we started doing more college classes, which we took with regular college students.”The next two years began to look more like college as they moved to the main building for classes with other college students.
Then COVID hit. Suddenly the house was overflowing with college kids -including Max who, as a freshman at NMSU, came home when the pandemic closed the college. He is now studying at home while working at CVS as he waits for the college to reopen.Ever flexible, Mom says, “We had to get two extra desks and find a place to put them so everyone could work from home from the end of their junior year and then this one. It’s busy, but it’s always been busy –it's just busy in a different way.”Dad states the obvious, with a note of sarcasm.“We have four college students at our house. Sometimes everyone has to be quiet so they can do their zoom meeting.”All three students agreed that classes are less engaging when conducted online. Obviously frustrated, Ysabel noted, “If you’re not very self-motivated and it’s not a class you enjoy, it’s going to be difficult; you’re going to have to make yourself work, watch the lectures, and not lose focus.”Dad added, “You can turn the lecture on and walk away, basically.You can’t do that in a classroom.”Her two siblings agreed vehemently when Ysabel added, “Some classes really shouldn’t be online, especially the labs. We all had an anatomy class last semester and it was horrible because it didn’t have an in-person lab.” Additionally, their father pointed out that their physics lab was held on YouTube.“It’s just difficult,” Olivia states. “It’s not easy.And some of the programs we couldn’t download on laptops and we had to go to the school.”Ysabel added, “For the tests we had to go up to the college and take them, so it kind of defeated the purpose of not letting us be in-person for the class because we had to go up there anyway.”Then there were the numbers. COVID restricted the computer lab to two people at a time –and triplets means three. Even though triplets alsomeanssame family, same breathing space, it doesn’t allow them the same breathing space in the computer lab. Therefore, while two used the lab, the other waited, doubling the time they were at the lab.Making the transition from high school to college is challenging, and the challenge was compounded for this group of scholars because they had to transition to almost total online learning at the same time. “It has been an experience having high school kids at the college,” says their mom, who has always diligently herded her baby chicks, “because as college kids there’s no parental rights. We cannot access theirgrades,we’re not supposed to talk to their teachers on their behalf... None of that is supposed to happen.“So that’s a different school experience right there. Sometimes it’s hard to get your kid, when they’re still teenagers and they aren’t ready for the adult world, to go do the adult things. I tell them they need to go to their teacher and they need to talk to them about this because your teacher is not going to talk to you about it.“That was hard, and made harder with COVID, because they’re a college campus and they don’t have the same care for these kids that are 16 and 17 years old and having a hard time transitioning to online classes.”Despite the challenges, Dad feels the program has been good for them. “That’s where a lot of kids get lost in education. Suddenly it’s put all on their shoulders and takes a lot more effort on their part and Mom and Dad aren’t there to help, and you don’t necessarily want to admit it to Mom and Dad how hard a time you’re having.“And the teachers here are the way the college teachers are: they got yourmoney,they don’t care if you show up or not.Sothey’ve already seen that it takes a self-motivated person to continue in education. AndsoI think that will be helpful for them going forward, because they do see the value in an education and a higher degree, and I think that they're better prepared for it. I’m glad that they were offering thisopportunity.”The other, mostly unspoken reason for going to college,is just not an issue with this family. When asked if COVID hampered their social lives, the three looked at each other, laughed, and then Rex simply stated, “Social is us.”
Mom fondly adds, “They are a little stunted socially; I have to admit that. Whenyou have built-in friends and you don’t know what it’s like to do stuff on your own...” Well, there’s no need to worry about having someone to hang out with.What they do socially is almost entirely a family experience anyway. With the exception of Ysabel, who is a formidable volleyball player, their activities are communal. All are involved in the LDS Church, and all are musicians. The triplets played in the high school band until it got too complicated with the early college program, and everyone except Mom (who asserts she plays the piano, but not that well) has enjoyed playing in Carlsbad’s Wind Symphony.The symphony’s director, Paul Cosand, has equally enjoyed having their talents and their dedication. “They were delightful –all three of them –and they added a lot to what we could do as a group. They were sort of quiet,” he remembers. “They just got in there andgotthings done.“They’re very goal oriented, they have a lot of skill and talent, and they’re going to be able to accomplish whatever they want to do. I’m really going to miss them.”And yes, all three will arrive at the campus of New Mexico State University with Presidential Scholarships in hand. Rex’s arrival will be delayed a year while he goes on a mission for his church. When hereturns, he will room with his brother, Max; Ysabel will room with a friend from church; and Olivia, the independent one, “is just going to go randomly,” Dad states with a smile, “because she needs to get off by herself a little and blossom.”Olivia isn’t quite sure that description fits her, and Rex definitely disagrees when both parents assert that he is the least independent of the three. But Mom seals it when she relates their kindergarten pre-testing experience. “They had to be tested individually. When it was Rex’s turn, he was not having it. ‘Hey,’ he said, ‘where’s my sisters? I don’t do stuff without my sisters! Why are you asking me stuff, and where are my sisters? Why do I have to do this without them?’ And he answered their questions, and as soon as they were done, he was out of there! None of the rest of them were phased by it.”After graduation, Rex plans to be a doctor; Ysabel hopes to continue her current path and become a pharmacist; and Olivia, being independent, has tentative plans to become an accountant.And what will Mom and Dad do when they come home to a house suddenly devoid of kids –and desks? They’re not going to sit around feeling lost.8 “We’re actually going to go back to Idaho,” Valerie announces. (“They’re ditching us and leaving us here,” Ysabel inserts.) It all makes perfect sense (“To them,” Rex says). His mother is still alive, my parents are still alive, and they live in Idaho. And when the kids are in college, they’re nomads for about the next five to eight years.”“I'm taking a job in Idaho starting July 1,” Kary stated. “We got them graduated (“And then they’re like, bye!” Ysabel adds). These people called me three years ago and I told them we’re not going to leave until the kids do.Sowe’re leaving.”“AndI’ll stay here until the house sells and the kids get settled,” Valerie adds. (“That will take four years,” Ysabel interjects, even though they all already have two of those years completed. Rex adds, “We’ll scare away the buyers –we'll be watching –we know where you live!”)Sowe’re just going to go and live in Idaho and take care of our parents and when these guys make some roots, then we’ll probably be back.” (“Probably not,” says Dad).While the near future may look a little sketchy, Mom feels theywill all eventually settle in this area because they have enjoyed their lives in Carlsbad. Then, Dad says with authority, “Hopefully, “they’ll be productive members of society –do the church thing, do the productive thing, have a family...”The socially stunted triplets were definitely not comfortable with Dad’s last goal, exchanging rather horrified looks with their support system.One thing is easy to predict: whoever these delightful, dedicated triplets marry, they will need to make their spouses aware that each spouse will be marrying three people. These triplets seem to have no intention of ever being permanently separated.