Local Verde Valley School graduates reflect on last four years

Alexandra Wittenberg, Red Rock News
Portraits courtesy Verde Valley School

ALEXANDRIA GILBERT, 18



What did you like or dislike about growing up in the Sedona area?
I like the small town community and the uniqueness of Sedona. However, it is extremely tiny and niche — making it difficult to have the stereotypical childhood.

What was your favorite class that you took at VVS?

Anthropology for sure. It is something that I fell in love with immediately. It is not every day that you get to participate in global issues or learn about cultures you never even heard of. All within a classroom.

Did you participate in any sports or clubs, or other activities while you were at VVS?

I was a part of the Equestrian Program. I also was the farm work job leader for nearly my entire high school experience.

What were some trips you took while attending VVS?
I went to several Native American reservations in Utah, Colorado and Arizona. I visited Joshua Tree, the Channel Islands, Guatemala and Malawi.

What are your fondest memories at VVS?
My freshman year, during every meal, the freshman class would sit together. One day during a study period, Chef Mike snuck us into the pantry and gave us ice cream. [Also,] riding my horse galloping through meadows as the sun began to set and learning aerial arts during project period.

What will you miss the most about VVS?
The community and my relationships with my teachers.

What are your plans for after graduation?
I will be going to Boston University in the College of Arts and Sciences as well as the Kilachand Honors College as a medical anthropology major.

Where do you see yourself in 5, 10 years? 20? 30?
In five years I’ll be finishing up my degrees. In 10 years I’ll be a doctor in the clinic that I built while on a service trip to Malawi. In 20 years I’ll be training new local doctors in Malawi. In 30 years I’ll be either back in the USA or working with Camino Saguaro in Guatemala.

What has been the hardest part about finishing off your senior year virtually?
I finished high school classes in my bed and not screaming across the quad with my best friends and four-year classmates. Not being able to say a formal goodbye.

What is your biggest take-away from your experience at VVS?

Do not be afraid to get your hands dirty, both figuratively and literally.



CODY HESELTON



What did you like or dislike about growing up in Sedona?

I have enjoyed knowing that most people in Sedona strive to be outdoors and just be active. Moving here from Denver was a shift I was not ready for, but I am now happy that I made it.

What was your favorite class that you took at VVS? Why?

I enjoyed biology with Andy Gill. Even though it was not my strongest subject it is the class where I learned the most and grew into a smarter person.

Did you participate in any sports, clubs or activities while you were at VVS?

I was a part of the mountain biking team and soccer team during my time at VVS and I loved every second of it. Along with this I was assistant coach for the softball team during my junior year, [though] this was short lived because I separated my shoulder.

What were some trips you took while attending VVS?

I was on three trips during my time at VVS, On The Edge [sophomore year], Desert Dwellers [junior year] and Catalina [senior year]. These trips carry my fondest memories of VVS, hiking through the Grand Staircase in Escalante and learning how to scuba dive on Catalina [Island].

What are your plans for after
graduation?
My plan now is to attend college at Western Washington University in Washington State.

What will you miss the most about VVS?

I’m going to miss the community aspect of being a part of VVS and knowing that all the faculty care so deeply about every single student.

Where do you see yourself in the years to come?

I hope to see myself just being happy outdoors and being a part of nature, and knowing that what I’m doing is making an impact on not only the people I know but people around me.

What has been the hardest part about finishing off your senior year virtually?

It’s been difficult finishing my senior year virtually because I have not been able to be with any of my peers to finalize my time here.

What is your biggest takeaway from your experience at VVS
?
If I could only take away one thing from VVS it is to show compassion to everyone you meet because you never know who will show it back to you.



NATALIE MONTGOMERY, 18



What did you like or dislike about growing up in Sedona?
I really loved growing up in Sedona because of how it was when I was a kid. Everyone went outside and [on] adventures all the time. For me that never really changed and I will always enjoy the pure beauty of Sedona, the never-ending adventure.

What was your favorite class that you took at VVS?

My favorite class at VVS was definitely ceramics. My teacher Jeff made the class extraordinary and fun every day. My classmates and I had so much fun just doing our art and talking. It was for sure my favorite part of the day.

Did you participate in any sports, clubs or activities while you were at VVS?

At VVS I was part of the Equestrian program for all three of my years.

What were some trips you took while attending VVS?

I went to the Hopi Reservation, backpacked Coyote Gulch, volunteered at Yellowstone National Park, rafted the Grand Canyon, and my favorite trip was doing service work in Malawi, Africa for a month.

What are your fondest memories at VVS?
I have to say that most of my memories included riding because that’s where I spent the most time with my friends.

What will you miss the most about VVS?

The people, the campus, the feeling that VVS gives you. VVS becomes a second home to many people. I honestly feel that I created a little family with the friends at VVS and I’m going to miss going through the VVS experience with them every day.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I plan to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson, where I will be majoring in veterinary science. My goal is to become a big animal vet since they are so needed.

Where do you see yourself down the road?

I honestly have no idea. I feel like I kind of just want to go with the flow of life. I just hope that I am happy and doing something that will help the world become a better place.

What has been the hardest part [if any] about finishing off your senior year virtually?

Honestly, it’s just the fact that I don’t really get to say goodbye. [To] my friends, teachers, horses and just the campus in general. I feel like it just sucks not getting the closure that you usually do when you graduate.

What is your biggest takeaway from your experience at VVS?

I have learned from VVS to appreciate life more, to embrace every single moment. I have been lucky enough to experience extraordinary things at VVS and they all really showed me that I shouldn’t future trip, that I should live in the moment with whoever I’m surrounded by.



ELLIE SIEP, 17



What did you like or dislike about growing up in Sedona?
As a Sedona native I have seen this town go through so many developmental changes and expansions, not only in industrial growth but as well with being a globally connected town. This airy desert oasis has not only allowed me to make global connections with visiting individuals, but has allowed me to experience various activities relating to our expansive outdoor scenery. Sedona for me is a place that my heart calls “home” and I truly will always have an everlasting positive connection to this sacred valley.

What was your favorite class that you took at VVS?

While attending Verde Valley School I got to partake in a wide variety of expansive classes. One
of my favorite classes was photography with Jeff Perkins. This class was an artistic outsource for myself as I was able to express emotions through photographic art. Photography class also allowed me to learn a new skill which I will forever be able to utilize as I got to learn how to shoot, develop and print film.

Did you participate in any sports, clubs or activities while you were at VVS?

During my time at Verde Valley School I got to partake in various activities such as swimming, hiking, cross country running, fitness and the equestrian team.

What were some trips you took while attending VVS?

While attending Verde Valley School I got to partake in the desert solitaire field trip. This trip was a two week long voyage in which I got to backpack through Paria Canyon in Utah. While on this trip myself and the rest of our group were able to partake in a 48-hour solo in which we each individually got to camp out, cook and be completely disconnected from the outer world. This experience truly allowed for self realization and reconnection to my inner being.

What are your fondest memories at VVS?

My fondest memories at Verde Valley School were the simplistic everyday events that took place. I truly can’t pinpoint one specific event that overcasts all others. The Verde
Valley School experience serves as a whole monumental memory for myself.

What will you miss the most about VVS?

One thing I will miss most is the community at Verde Valley School, as so many faculty members and peers had lasting impacts on my life and worldly views.

What are your plans for after graduation?

After graduation, I am heading to Tucson to pursue a major in Veterinary Science at the University of Arizona.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

My futuristic timeline has not been created but, my plan for future ventures is to complete my
Veterinary Science major and then pursue and complete all adequate schooling, internships and licensing to become an equine vet. After completion of all educational schooling, I plan to either open my own equine veterinary practice and/or to get a government job with the FDA.

What is your biggest take-away from your experience at VVS?

Be patient, hold your ground and never turn away from what you are driven to accomplish.



JORDAN WIGHT, 18



What did you like or dislike about growing up in Sedona?

I have felt very safe growing up in Sedona. Since the town is small, it’s very easy to see my friends!

What was your favorite class that you took at VVS?

My favorite class was definitely biology. It was challenging in a way that really allowed me to grow but I felt supported the entire time.

Did you participate in any sports, clubs or outside activities while you were at VVS?

I participated in the spring musical every year that I was there [“Heathers” sophomore year, “Godspell” junior year, and we were going to do “Twelfth Night” this year]. I was in the rock band for most of my time at VVS.

What were some trips you took while attending VVS?

On the Edge: We went to Moab for five days and did a variety of outdoor adventures and removed invasive species from an area recovering from mining. We spent another five days in Kanab volunteering at Best\ Friend’s Animal Society.

Hopi Work Weekend: We went up to the Hopi reservation and helped awoman prepare her garden for growing beans and corn.

Crestone: We spent five days in Taos, New Mexico building Earthships. Earthships are made from recycled materials like old tires and bottles as well as natural materials such as adobe. They are built with energy conservation in mind, such that an Earthship could be completely “off the grid.” After those five days, we went to Crestone, Colorado and studied the spiritual practices of many different groups and religions.


Coats for Kids: This was a partnership with one of the elementary schools on the Hopi reservation. We collected brand new coats from the community in the sizes that were requested from the school and then brought them up and made sure that every kid had a new coat that fit them.


Supai: We hiked down to the Supai and did a variety of different service projects for seven days. In the morning, we worked at the local school, bringing projects for the kids to participate in and helping the teachers with their normal curriculum. In the afternoons, we did a lot of yard work, burning an invasive weed that had taken over the yards of many families, as well as removing graffiti along the trail and on the sacred rocks in the area. We then hiked out and spent a few days on the rim of the Grand Canyon, studying how the national park explained the relationship with the Havasupai people as opposed to the accounts that we heard from tribe members themselves.

What will you miss the most about VVS?

I will miss all of the connections I’ve made here. I feel like this is the first place where I have truly been able to find myself, where I’ve been pushed but always had support should I need it. VVS is my second home and the people in it my second family. I will miss all of them so very much.

What are your plans for after graduation?

This summer, I will be working. In August, I will be going to The Honors College at The University of Arizona with a major in psychology.

Where do you see yourself in the years to come?

In five years, I imagine that I will be in a different country, taking some time off before graduate school, hopefully helping to teach children in the area. In 10 years, I will be freshly out of graduate school, working as a mental health crisis worker. In 20 years, I will likely be working more one-on-one with patients in a clinical setting as a therapist. In 30 years, I would like to be in the process of moving to Iceland and opening my own cafe that serves fair trade coffee and tea made from herbs in my own garden.
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