RIO RANCHO – Just after 8 a.m. on July 26, the scent of paint was easily detected on the west side of Rio Rancho High School.

No, the school’s not getting another paint job, but you can be sure there’ll be no arguing over parking spaces among the seniors in the Class of 2024.

For the second year in a row, seniors are allowed to give their parking places a touch of personality and a dose of pride.

Activities Director Christopher Salas, easily located because he was wearing a green jersey with SENOR SALAS 23” on the back as he walked among the hundred or so students laying down paint – as many as 170 were planning to take advantage of the offer – said he started the project last year in light of other schools in the metro area doing it. (La Cueva, Cibola and Volcano Vista, to name three.)

Anticipating 580 May graduates, about 30 more than in the Class of 2023, Salas said there are regulations for what is allowed – “School appropriate. Students here at the school usually are pretty good at following what’s appropriate. We’ve had mushrooms sometimes, that I’ll have to say, ‘no,’ that might be drug-related, even though they’re trendy. We see a lot of school pride stuff and what’s trending on social media – I think ‘Barbie’ will be popular this year.

“We had a testing day last year when there were just juniors on campus, and there would be an incentive to stay for a class meeting – they would get priority in a parking space,” he explained. “There were about 30 students stayed for that meeting, so they were the first to choose.”

Salas said he noticed something else: “I think what’s really special about this event is it brings the families together, so you’ll see a lot of families out here, helping their students start the school year off strong. So really a lot of positives coming out of this.”

Nearby, using a roller for the first coat on her space, was Carlie Billbrough.

“No,” she said when asked, there was no way she’d help her family with any painting.

Across from her, Jillian Montes – a classmate of Carlie’s since their days at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary and then Lincoln Middle School and now as RhythAMettes – was getting help from her father, Erick.

Jillian, senior class president, said, “It’s my last year, so it’s kinda exciting to make the most of it, I guess.

“I think it’s really cool that we start with painted parking spots, so it kinda gets you into the spirit, being a senior,” she said.

“My space is gonna have a white border and then, on the inside, it’s going to be a pink background with flowers with my name on it and ‘senior.’” She’ll park her Honda CR-V there on school days.

Jillian’s RRHS highlight so far has been running for office and being a part of Associated Students; she’ll soon be teaching dance at Albuquerque Stars.

“It’s really nice to be on the leadership side, behind the scenes,” she said.

After graduation in May, she’s planning to “probably” attend the University of New Mexico, hoping someday to be in criminology, “so either criminal psychology or being in the FBI, something like that.”

Carlie has a refreshing attitude about her final year at RRHS.

“I really enjoy it; I love school,” she said. “Rio makes everything fun here, all the clubs.

“This year I’m captain on the dance team; I’ve been in (Associated Students) four years; I’m NHS historian and I’m in Key Club,” she said, adding she’s working her way into the top 25 of her graduating class.

“I really like this,” she said of painting her parking spot. “We’ve been trying to get this since I was a freshman. I did help a couple of my friends paint their spots last year, so this year I get to paint my own. I really like it because kids get something that’s their own, whatever they want to do with it … express themselves with something everyone gets to see every day. … There’s not many things anymore that are just for seniors.”

Her spot is “going to be a Spotify album button, like when you play a song, and it’s gonna be  ‘Sign of the Times’  by Harry Styles, and then at the top I’m writing, ‘Welcome to the final show.’”

A “little white Infinity” will occupy that spot daily.

“I’m just looking forward to being a senior and, like, getting to experience all the things for the last time – it’s like the last of everything for me,” Carlie said, “and kinda have the best last year I can.”

Following graduation, she said, “I’m going to go to UNM. I’m going to get a degree in political science and psychology, and then go into law school.”

In 10 years, she sees herself “at a law firm in a big city.”

“I think this class is really spirited and it’s going to be a good year,” surmised Jillian.

It sure seems that way.