Verde Valley School Welcoming Fall Newsletter

Donita Coburn-Amadio and the VVS Advancement Team
 
STOP!! Scroll to the bottom of the Newsletter, and click "View Entire Message"!!
 
 
Sliding Doors is a 1998 film about a woman who finds herself living in parallel worlds. As the character Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) rushes to make a train in London, she drops an earring in the lift and a man picks it up for her. She rushes for her train but just misses it as the train doors close; the film then rewinds and the scene is replayed, except that this time she just manages to board the train. The film continues, alternating between the two storylines in which different events ensue (but with occasional intersections of the two).
 
I feel as if I too am living in parallel worlds in respect to VVS. The world certainly looks different than it did just six months ago when I returned from a wonderful alumni visit to Northern California in early March. Less than three weeks later, we closed our campus and pivoted to virtual learning for the spring semester. COVID-19 has created this parallel universe for all of us - from so many things going so well happening simultaneously to the impact of COVID-19 on us all.
 
So much has happened and we at VVS are hard at work developing plans for what the future will look like in our changed global environment. While our board, staff, and community are working tirelessly to forecast and model what different scenarios can and will look like in this rapidly changing time, we are also keenly aware of our immediate needs for this 2020-2021 school year. 
 
We at VVS are looking forward to welcoming our boarding students to campus on August 30th. We have been planning with immense care over the past two months for the reopening of campus in the midst of COVID-19. We are very confident in our plan, even as it continues to evolve, and has been shaped by information from medical experts, public policy, and feedback from students, board members, families and staff. Moreover, our plan and associated operations are the result of the work of the COVID-19 Task Force, composed of members of the Verde Valley School community. I would like to publicly say thank you to the staff, board members, and the leadership team for their collaboration - many giving up vacation time to lend support to the design of the plan. Their tireless work has positioned us to offer a true VVS experience effectively during COVID-19. To say that I am proud of their work is an understatement, and that work will continue daily over the coming months. Please review the following points regarding the creation of the plan and what informed our decision making.
 
  • We believe that we are better together and it is in the best interest of the social-emotional development and academic progress of students to return to school, if they can do so safely, while we manage an appropriate standard of care for our community.
 
  • In forming our reopening plans, we have been informed by the National Association of Independent Schools; The Association of Boarding Schools; international, national, regional, state, and local authorities; and guidance from the State Epidemiologist and Medical Director.
 
  • Our goal is to have every VVS student return to campus this semester, as soon as they are able, using state-led gating information and, in particular, guidance from the Yavapai County Health Department.
 
  • We will continue to communicate regularly with all of our community members in a variety of ways as we continue to finalize and adjust details as necessary.
 
As you know, Verde Valley School is a small school. As a non-profit organization, we do not receive any state or federal funding of any kind and currently 93% of our operating budget comes from tuition and 7% from fundraising and ancillary revenue. When compared to our peer schools in the National Association of Independent Schools with student populations under 200, we far exceed fundraising totals in annual and operating funds. Due to increased philanthropic support from our constituents, we have raised significant ancillary funds making our growth possible, from a broad spectrum of new and faithful donors. According to many, VVS was in the healthiest position since its founding in 1948. Then, the unexpected happened. COVID-19 and the impact on us all. 
 
Until three weeks ago, we believed that our international students from all countries would be on campus at some point this fall. Even our SHIXI China partner program remained positive for a January enrollment. We have attracted several new Board members who have also stepped up their philanthropy, and our June Board Meetings were upbeat, feeling that we had made many strategic decisions to “get through this unprecedented time.” 
 
All of that has changed with the loss of our international students due to restrictions on student VISAS and travel bans, and even though we will have 90 students to start the year, without our international students, we will need approximately $1.5 million dollars to make up for the loss of tuition revenue. Add to that, the expenses of ensuring the health and safety of our community, the enormous cost for technology advances and enhancements to satisfy virtual learning and strengthened wifi bandwidth, our need to add an additional mental health counselor to support students, and the cost for COVID-19 Testing are additional costs above and beyond our operating budget. The alternatives are bleak even though several other donors have stepped up to help. Unfortunately, in spite of cultivation of many of our constituents, none of our major philanthropists have the capacity to assist with a major gift of that level. Donita and I are working round the clock, making as many inroads as we can, and, as I wrote earlier, we have had some great success, but it is not enough. It costs approximately $12,500 per day to operate VVS. While we are first and foremost an educational institution, we are also a small non-profit business. We will need everyone’s philanthropic support to get us through June 2021. 
 
While I am very hard on myself, and constantly asking what I could or should have done to avoid this, the fact is none of our current problems have been caused by mismanagement or poor financial decisions. COVID-19 has impacted us just like the rest of the world. 
 
We all know that schools everywhere are vulnerable. In the past five years, VVS has been wildly successful with record fundraising, record enrollment, balanced budgets, impressive IB results and college placement. We have and are changing a school that settled for scarcity into one of growing abundance. The pandemic is a terrible setback on our progress to say the least, but VVS is uniquely poised to come out ahead. We know that the way we deliver education is leading the way for many others and we will carry on living up to our mission. Now, more than ever, the world needs leadership that leads with service and grace but also with the skills to navigate an increasingly uncertain planet. The world needs VVS!
 
Thank you for being part of this beautiful community and wonderful school. With your involvement and support, we will get through this. We will continue educating global citizens and changing the world for the better.
 
Paul Amadio
Head of School
 
Take a breath. Close your eyes. Count to three. Another breath. Sometimes, this is what privilege feels like, because so many people cannot breathe. Black, indigenous, and other people of color, have been holding their breath for generations waiting and working for civil rights and the equity our great nation promises. Lives are still being taken -the breath literally extinguished, still systematically abused, and people cannot breathe.
 
In many places across our country and the world, people are struggling under the weight of toxins and pollutants in the air, their drinking water, and food supplies. Big corporations continue to skirt regulations that might make a difference. Global warming is driving our world’s temperatures higher and higher, and again, people cannot breathe. 
 
And now, there is a global pandemic. People are getting sick, filling hospitals to capacity, and nurses and doctors are overworked and understaffed in many places. The hardest hit among us are fighting for their lives, connected to ventilators, while the rest of us don our masks and physically distance ourselves. And people cannot breathe.
 
In the face of the heaviness of our times, I have felt the pressure of holding my breath, but I am lucky. I have the privilege and the ability to adjust. My family is fairly healthy and as safe as possible. Even more, we have made a life-changing decision to take part in a community where people truly care. At Verde Valley School, we are guided by founding principles that foster sustainability, international cooperation, and the education of global citizens. My son, Shane, will attend here this fall in the tenth grade, while I will do everything I can in my new role as Director of Development for the betterment of VVS.
 
For the past twenty years, I have spent my career working in the greater nonprofit community of Dallas, Texas. Before the 70th reunion here at VVS, I was fortunate enough to connect with Paul and Donita as a fundraising consultant to help with strategic planning for the big event, and have returned each year to help with the reunion festivities. Each visit, falling more in love with this school.
 
Little more than a week ago, we loaded our cars and embarked on what I know will be one of the most significant journeys of our lives. We are looking forward to working and living with the people here at VVS who care so deeply about social justice, the environment, and keeping our kids safe during the biggest challenge we are collectively facing -to say nothing of the incredible academics and programming at this amazing school. And here, even in the midst of the pandemic, we, at least, finally get to breathe.
 
Shelly Gammieri
Director of Development
Verde Valley Ideas 2020
 
Verde Valley Ideas 2020 -
A Festival Lives On
 
At Verde Valley School we investigate and grow global citizenship. We are loyal stewards of this land, of this place. We offer transformative experiences that reveal the depths of someone’s courage, character, and convictions. We ask questions. We uncover surprising answers. We laugh. We rediscover our world, each other, and ourselves.  
 
Who says that ought to be reserved for teenagers? Any adult I respect would say such concepts relate to her daily life, her work in becoming the fullest version of herself, her journey in building a life that aligns with her values and deepest hopes. Enter Verde Valley Ideas. This festival was born out of an important realization: Verde Valley School is not just for our students. We can be - and now we are - a beacon for life-long experiential learning, a place that brings people from all walks of life together to understand, and thus remake, our world.  
 
In September, 2019, the inaugural Verde Valley Ideas festival welcomed speakers, workshop leaders, and performers to our campus for a weekend of big questions and palpable community. Investigating the theme, Ever Wonder, scientists, journalists, artists, educators, environmentalists, and economists helped us to look out beyond the horizon of our world and consider what else might be possible. Participants engaged in intimate, hands-on labs in the morning, were inspired by a full program of talks and performances on the Brady Hall stage in the afternoon, and broke bread at the spectacular Farm to Table Feast under the stars. A highlights film can be found at www.verdevalleyideas.org/stage. We were all eager to see what year two would bring.
 
With the news of the pandemic and the threats of gathering people from all over the world, we cancelled Verde Valley Ideas 2020 in late Spring. No doubt, it was the responsible and necessary choice. Then, mid summer, we realized something. Now, perhaps more than ever, we must ask big questions, we must engage with unlikely community members, we must collectively remap our future. And so, we’re raising the flag and insisting that the festival lives on, if virtually for one year.  
 
On September 18th at 5pm pacific, Verde Valley Ideas on Stage will stream to living rooms all over the world. Speakers and performers will dig into this year’s theme, Exploring the Exception, the Overlooked, Dismissed, and Denied Outliers of Thought and History. With a surge of activism reminding all of us of the inarguable worth of black lives, we are excited and inspired to turn over stones in various disciplines and discover what awaits. We’ll learn from accomplished journalists, inspiring land advocates, friends in other nations fighting for freedom, and energy entrepreneurs working to establish a sustainable future. There will be powerful words, inspiring art, essential questions, and - even in our separateness - important connection. Please join us. While this event is free to the public, we ask that you support such innovative programming by making a donation if you intend to attend the virtual festival. We suggest $25/person - the price of last year’s ticket to Verde Valley Ideas on Stage.  
 
Verde Valley Ideas believes that when a broad spectrum of thinkers and doers share ideas, we have the power to transform our world. Let us collectively rise up. Now, more than ever, we must.
 
Lauren Kelley
Director of Experiential Education
Chair of English Department
 
On Saturday, October 10th at 6pm, Verde Valley School will host the virtual Dream Concert, reviving a concept originally started 30 years ago by musician Jackson Browne. In 1990, Browne and a handful of famous friends held an outdoor music festival on the Verde Valley School campus near the Village of Oak Creek in Sedona, Arizona. The festival became an anticipated annual affair. For 12 years, Browne’s concerts drew large crowds to an open field facing Cathedral Rock. Nostalgic concert goers might not remember that these festivals raised tuition assistance for Native American students to attend the small but distinguished, private, international boarding school nestled in the red rocks. Performers who joined in the cause included Neil Young, John Trudell, Bruce Cockburn, Bonnie Raitt, the Indigo Girls, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Shawn Colvin, Ben Harper, and many others. They all came to Sedona to raise money for students and raise awareness of issues facing Native American communities. The benefits raised over $700,000, financing tuition for at least 37 students at Verde Valley School.
 
The virtual Dream Concert arose out of a collective desire to continue including Native American students. VVS anthropology teacher Leigh Carter and her husband Bill Carter began by reaching out to musicians directly. Bill, who is a filmmaker, author, activist, and professor at NAU School of Communications, started with an old Tucson friend Joey Burns of the band Calexico, who immediately pledged a performance. From there the couple reached out to VVS alumnus Jeneda Benally (‘92), now a well-known Navajo musician and humanitarian. Benally was actually the first student to benefit from those original music festivals. She was eager to help produce the Dream Concert as a way of giving back and supporting Native youth. Together, Bill Carter and Jeneda Benally assembled an impressive talent list, while Carter is set to produce and edit the show as a service-in-kind to VVS. 
 
The Dream Concert, which will be live-streamed by Relix on October 10, will highlight notable musicians advocating for the inclusion of Native American voices and bodies in education. Viewers can expect Jackson Browne and Bruce Cockburn to contribute heartfelt performances once again, along with Arizona bands Sihasin and Calexico. The eclectic show also promises treasures from world renowned musicians such as R. Carlos Nakai, Michael Franti, and Dene-Canadian rocker Leelah Gilday, along with several other musical guests.
 
In keeping with its roots, the Dream Concert will raise tuition funds to support Native American students in their quest for quality education. Proceeds from viewer donations will go to the Native American Scholarship Fund at Verde Valley School. VVS is a top tier high school devoted to cultural exchange. About 130 students come from around the world to live and learn together. Founded in 1948, by anthropologist Hamilton Warren, the school has a reputation as one of America’s first truly international, independent schools. VVS is still grounded upon this original founder’s statement: “The nation, indeed the world, needs a school that will bring together children from many nations, many cultures, all races and religions, not simply to study and tolerate one another, but to learn from and celebrate their differences.” 
 
Since its inception, VVS has partnered with regional tribal communities. The school location, in the Sedona area, was chosen for its proximity to Indigenous communities in Northern Arizona with hopes of cross-cultural programs. Through collaborations across the years, VVS has built relationships with families in Indigenous communities from Arizona to Guatemala and even Malawi, Africa. The school develops tribal relations through trips, service projects, Indigenous guest teachers, and Native American students in each grade level. 
 
To learn more about the Dream Concert, Verde Valley School and the Native American Scholarship Fund go to https://www.vvsaz.org/support-vvs/native-american-scholarship
 
Leigh Carter 
IB Anthropology Faculty
Department Chair of Social Sciences
Coordinator of Tribal Relations
 
For more information click the button below!
 
We are excited about being able to offer mountain biking for the students again this year. It is a really great opportunity to get the kids outside and into our amazing backyard. We have a few really cool features specific to us on campus, including purpose-built obstacles for learning mountain biking. We have wooden obstacles for use on the soccer field that develop progressive skills, a pump track for learning how a rider can move more fluidly and use the terrain to their advantage as well as developing an awareness of bike and rider separation. Finally, we have two miles of purpose built singletrack on campus. We are equipped to teach students who have never ridden a bike, all the way up to getting kids on Hiline and The Hangover! Being surrounded by world class trails is a total asset to our program.
 
What unique challenges are you facing in your program this year with trying to keep students in your program while also promoting social distancing and other activities to stop the spread of COVID?
 
John: I think mountain biking is a pretty good fit for the students at VVS despite having to mask up and physically distance ourselves. The challenges will be having our masks accessible and remembering to consistently use them when protocols call for them. Another challenge will be maintaining appropriate distance between riders while riding.
 
I've spoken with a number of athletes and coaches from other schools and clubs. One thing I've been consistently told is that a blessing in disguise from this spread has been more one-on-one coaching time with individual athletes. Do you agree with this? Also, do you see any other pieces of silver lining?
 
John: We haven't started school yet, but our student to coach ratio is usually low enough that we get a lot of one on one time. A silver lining for me is that mountain biking has more relevance and importance than ever because a lot of people feel cooped up and disconnected. I'm grateful we will be able to ride with a group and get out into the beautiful red rock landscape for nature therapy.
 
Another common thing I've heard over the last several months is that while it's important to stay safe, it's also important to stay active, especially for kids. What would you tell any students who may be on the fence regarding your program (or any other program offered at VVS) to encourage them to join?
 
John: I would let them know that the coaches will work with every student no matter their starting point and we will use a progressive model of coaching that will allow them to develop the skills they need and that all mountain biking is not the White Line. It is an inherently challenging activity, but a mindful rider controls the risks to a great degree.
 
From an athletic standpoint, how well do you think VVS (students, faculty, etc) have adjusted to the current pandemic and the constant changes that have come with it?
 
John: We practice what we preach at VVS. Life is full of challenges and things don't always go to plan so you have to have grit and a steadfastness about dealing with adversity. Athletically we lose some ground in competitive interscholastic sports, but we are well positioned to keep the outdoor activity level high and fun.
 
If there's anything about your program or the current situation that you'd like added that hasn't already been touched on, feel free to add it here.
 
John: I just feel we are fortunate to have 70-plus years of using the amazing place we live as a way to educate students, and outdoor activity from the field trip programs, daily sport activities like the equestrian program, hiking and mountain biking programs are an extension of the school's mission and strong part of its allure.
 
Interview questions provided by:
Michael Dixon, Red Rock News
 
We are going to run the equestrian program the same way we always do, just with some enhanced COVID-19 safety protocols in place. We will still be doing trail rides, moonlight rides, English and Western lessons in the arena, swimming horses in Oak Creek, etc. The only large difference from our regular equestrian programming is that we will not be competing at off-campus events, like gymkhanas and English/jumping shows until VVS determines that it's safe enough to do so. Until that time, I plan to offer internal, friendly competitions among our own equestrians if there is interest.
 
What unique challenges are you facing in your program this year with trying to keep students in your program while also promoting social distancing and other activities to stop the spread of COVID?
 
Caroline: In the equestrian program, we've developed safety protocols that won't be terribly hard to implement. Some of these include hand-washing stations as students approach and leave the barn, not sharing grooming tools, halters, and helmets, sanitizing any shared tack, and mask wearing while grooming, saddling, mounting, etc. Luckily, everything in the equestrian program happens outdoors and we are blessed with great weather and stunning vistas, so that is a huge help. Horses are large animals, so physical distancing while actually riding (once we ride away from the barn area) is quite easy and natural and will allow us to enjoy the fresh air without masks. It will be challenging to not be able to compete locally and we are still working on protocols to transport riders safely so we can do all day rides in areas beyond Sedona and hopefully be able to horse camp again as well, but for now I feel lucky that there are so many other great things we can still do right now that won't be impacted.
 
I've spoken with a number of athletes and coaches from other schools and clubs. One thing I've been consistently told is that a blessing in disguise from this spread has been more one-on-one coaching time with individual athletes. Do you agree with this? Also, do you see any other pieces of silver lining?
 
Caroline: Yes, I do agree with this. Another silver lining I see is that horses are incredible teachers and I think their value will become even more apparent during this pandemic. In a time of physical distancing, there is a huge need for the contact and connection that horses can offer. The teamwork and partnership that develops between rider and horse is powerful and healing, and a particularly good antidote to the mental health stressors that are so prevalent right now. Horses reward patience, consistency and resilience (essential tools in these times of constant change) with an incredible bond that all humans, and especially teens, really need right now. I'm thrilled for our students to have the horses available to them, especially right now.
 
Interview questions provided by:
Michael Dixon, Red Rock News 
 
Dear VVS Community,
 
As we head into this Fall, I hope this note finds you all safe and healthy.
 
I know that we at the school have been preparing for the return of our students and are taking every possible precaution to assure VVS Families that we are using all of our resources to safely continue the tradition that is a world-class education for our students – whether on campus or virtually. 
 
Typically, at Commencement we make a number of announcements and pay tribute to members of our Community who have been instrumental in the life of Verde Valley School. We give awards, the most prestigious of which is the Warren Award – given annually to an outstanding alumnus whose life and work strongly reflect the mission of VVS.
 
This year the award went to Amie Rodnick, and I don’t think she got the recognition that I know she deserves for her long-term dedication to the school and its goals.
 
Amie and I attended VVS together from 1967 to 1971. I’ve seen her hard work, and I’ve seen her work hard. Together, we were weaned on work jobs, field trips, and mystery meat. Amie went on to become an attorney and joined the VVS Board in 2011. She brought me into “management” in 2013 and I have been lucky to have her counsel available ever since.
 
Like many of my classmates, Amie and I carried a deep love for Verde Valley, but had been historically disappointed by years of careless stewardship and loss of direction. Then, Amie got involved and, with a group of similarly focused and concerned individuals, began putting the pieces back in place. It wasn’t easy – but it was clear that the school needed a solid foundation and a culture shift back to our Guiding Principles.
 
There were obstacles.  
 
  • The school had a terrible balance sheet – and that needed fixing - Not only did Amie coordinate with our donors to re-assign the liability associated with a conditional gift in order to make the school more credit-worthy, but she also reached out using her personal connections and got the school significant corporate grants, which she continues to pursue to this day.
 
  • There was turnover in the role of Head of School – Amie and others participated in the Search Committee that ultimately identified candidate Paul Amadio and luckily brought him to our school. Her disarming Texas drawl and convincing ability to get things done charmed him into our community – which wasn’t easy considering our fiscal situation at the time.
 
  • Our policies and procedures were a little “loosey goosey” - From a leadership point of view, Amie, with her legal background, led the Board through a “reality check,” resulting in a complete review of our business and bookkeeping processes.  
 
  • Our accounting was less than ideal – Amie and others dug deep into our operating budget by writing off bad debt, reducing expenses, and doing what we could to reasonably increase revenue.  
 
  • Our relationship with our Alums and Donors was inaccurate, outdated, and sometimes slipshod - Amie spearheaded the need to improve software, centralize data, and be more conscientious about recognizing gifts and donations – both by tasking the Board to find a professional quality system and instituting a system for the personal creation of thank you notes (which the Board often does). Amie also drove the movement to create the donor board that can be found in the lobby of Brady Hall.
 
Amie clearly didn’t accomplish all of this on her own. Over the last nine years, many hard-working and dedicated board members, staff people, faculty and alumni have been important parts of the process… but, in many ways, Amie was the glue that bound us all together.
 
When Amie and I were students, Amie painted a very entertaining mural on the walls of the Infirmary – which, in those days, was filled with very subtle (and ribald) jokes in a “Where’s Waldo” kind of way. 
 
Today, Amie’s mural is painted all over the canvas that is Verde Valley School.
 
We’re living through something for which none of us could have really prepared. This pandemic is, and will continue to be, a surprising and uncomfortable challenge. After three years of consistent and improving budget success, we’re once again having to struggle to make ends meet – but this time, due to the teams that have been set in place by Amie and Paul, I know that we’re in a much better place than ever before.
 
Please join me in recognizing the amazing and wonderful contributions that Amie Rodnick has made to Verde Valley School.
 
Stay safe.
 
Best,
 
Richard “Richie” Greenberg ‘71
 
2020 Warren Award Recipient
Amie Rodnick
 
  • 3 terms – President 
  • Hiring committee – Hired Paul (Dana Blavat too)
  • Finance policies – with Tammy
  • Multiple Headmasters - Graham
  • Separation and reformation of the VVS Foundation / Diane Christensen
  • Land re-org / Tamara / Tammy
  • Time commitment
  • Legal knowledge
  • Ability to resolve tough situations – property / finance / etc. with good humor and a real human, honest touch
  • Chairing foundation
  • Hershey donations
  • Chaired Governance committee with Bylaw re-write (maybe twice). Instrumental in keeping us on track.
  • Donor Board
 
Thoughtful Thursday - a VVS book club for adults
 
I’m sitting here racking my brain about what to write. Usually I have a clear direction and a crisp idea formulating but right now my head is a bowl of mush. I’m physically and emotionally exhausted and I want a good night’s sleep, I want to see my children in person and I want comfort in knowing this discomfort is temporary. Yet all of this seems just out of reach at the moment. 
 
I had planned to take a walk to get my thoughts flowing, hoping some gentle movement would create a space of creativity in my mind and heart. I grabbed my phone and started to walk down to the main campus when I remembered I had left my mask at home. I turned around, headed back home and grabbed my mask and hand sanitizer and turned to walk back out the door when the tears started. I let them flow, I welcomed and encouraged them to keep coming and I had a full on cry. Not the kind of cry I would share with others but a deep, grieving cry for what has changed, what has been lost, and what feels sometimes like a mountain of hurdles with no relief in sight. The changes have been isolating, exhausting and restrictive for even the most simple of activities like taking a walk to the main campus or grabbing a few items at the grocery store. I’m certainly not alone with these feelings. It is uncomfortable to feel restricted when my life has been full of freedom.
 
My freedom comes largely from my privilege and recently I have become keenly aware of my place in the world and the luxury of how I have been able to inhabit it. But in my sorrow I realize that my reeducation has not caught up with my nervous system. I am on a mission to become an antiracist and that is deep work. Being accepting and celebrative of everyone is a label I would have worn openly prior to the death of George Floyd, and before the recent protests that seemed to come on the heels of a global health crisis. Being an antiracist would have occupied the same place in my life as being an accepting, loving human being who at my very core believes that all humans are humans worthy of equal treatment. I have spent a lot of my life convinced that I am not a racist, and educating myself and others in these beliefs. I attended The Peaceable Schools Institute at Lesley University (then Lesley College ) in Cambridge, MA and had a school position as a diversity coordinator at a boarding school just outside of Boston. But my new level of consciousness demands that “not being a racist” is racist. We have to grow into the skin of being anti racist and that level of consciousness is not a being, it’s a doing. It is no coincidence that our attention to systemic inequity would arise during a time of discomfort for all. It’s the perfect mirror for each of us to decide how we see ourselves–up close, magnified, flaws enlarged or dimly lit, smokey and soft.
 
I am choosing to dive in deep, knowing that I know almost nothing of what it means to be something other than white and comfortable. I choose to make bold mistakes and social faux pas in my path to learning how to make a difference. This reeducation hurts my heart, it exhausts me, but for me it is necessary. I realize that having to return home to fetch my mask and hand sanitizer is not worthy of a breakdown unless I reflect on imaging a bigger realization about what details I would have to consider each day as a Black or Brown human being living in the United States. This realization is because of my reeducation, my core desire to be better at how I “do” human existence. I understand so much more than I did in June and yet I have to feel this over and over again to begin to understand what equity and systemic change look and feel like. Our global discomfort has the potential to teach us what it might feel like to not take freedom for granted. To look beneath the surface of discomfort to empathy and compassion.
 
I invite you to join me in a conversation about how to do collective and individual work to help make systemic change. Join us for Thoughtful Thursday - a VVS virtual book club for adults every Thursday at 5pm PT.  
 
A BIG thank you to all of our Thoughtful Thursday facilitators!
 
Thoughtful Thursday books past, present and future -
 
  • July 2020: How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, led by T McKinley, VVS English Faculty
 
  • August 2020: I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown, led by Michelle Williams, VVS Associate Director of Admissions
 
  • September 2020: Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall, led by Shelly Gammieri, VVS Director of Development
 
  • October 2020: Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir by Deborah A. Miranda, led by Zonnie Gorman, VVS Alumna ‘81
 
  • November 2020: White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, led by Peter Nelson VVS Alumnus ‘73
 
  • December 2020 - break
 
Respectfully yours,
Donita
 
Donita Coburn-Amadio
Director of Advancement 
 
August Book Club Reflection
 
“Reading about race in America is hard. And talking about what we are reading can be tricky at best, scary at worst! But it’s important that we practice being brave together.” ~ Austin Channing Brown
 
Austin Channing Brown, author of the August reading selection, “I’m Still Here”, made this statement which very well captures the sentiments of VVS Book Club participants. Together we are navigating emotional topics surrounding race in America. Starting from a place of kindness and respect, a safe space has been created to share, reflect, and learn as individuals who recognize the need for change in our country, and in our world.
 
During our first meeting participants were asked to think about the racial diversity in their elementary schools, and to exam whether or not they recall being in the racial minority .... ever. Several individuals shared moving stories and memories of race from their perspectives as children. Together we examined topics such as school integration, bussing and racism in families. It did, at times, evoke emotions that had been dormant for decades ... memories that, perhaps, we didn’t understand as children and either buried, or used as building blocks to shape our perceptions.
 
Weeks two and three asked that we examine diversity in the workplace, the problem of ‘niceness’, creative ways to use our anger, and criminal justice in America. Interesting themes emerged as we explored how female identity, white fragility/innocence, and collective weathering of a race have impacted our society.
 
From a shared desire to move the needle forward on race, book club participants return each week with eyes, ears, and hearts open ... exploring how to dismantle racism by starting with self-reflection. 
 
Michelle Williams, VVS Associate Director of Admission
 
July Book Club Reflection
 
I had the privilege of facilitating the first VVS "Thoughtful Thursdays" alumni book club last July. We read and discussed Ibram X. Kendi's This bestseller was especially timely after the execution of George Floyd and the wave of national protest and soul-searching that followed. Our four-week session also coincided with a live extended interview of Kendi’s broadcast online by the Prince George's Library System late in the month. A dozen VVS alumni spanning more than forty graduation years committed to this project, and they brought a wealth of curiosity, wit, and wisdom to our process. 
How to Be an Antitracist.
 
Of the many, many powerful learnings I take away from this experience, three really stand out. First, I was enriched by the diversity of perspectives in our group. Young and old, native and immigrant, urban and rural, our members constituted a kaleidoscope of geographies, backgrounds, and life experiences, all bonded in kinship through VVS. 
 
Second, I was inspired by our participants' commitment to growth and change. We are just waking up to the history and impact of systemic racism in America, and this group was so ready to do the difficult inner work - listening, learning, leaning into discomfort, and reflecting - that empowers positive change in the long run. 
 
And finally, as a new teacher here at VVS, I witnessed for myself what an extraordinary job this school has done for more than seventy years to shape global citizens and motivate them to serve others. A great many things may have changed on this campus over the years, but you can believe that the Warrens' vision for this school remains our bedrock, anchored as it is in these accomplished and passionate alumni.
 
T McKinley
English Faculty
Building The Medicinal Forest
 
Hi - AZ here, class of 1987. As an only child growing up with ‘distracted’ parents (that’s the kindest way I can phrase it), one of the motivations for my dad to send me to VVS was to provide me with a family that I didn’t have. Well, that family has most certainly been the result with people I am still connected with as part of my life every day since leaving VVS. I have stayed in heavy contact with dozens of people and have remained involved with the school over the years in various capacities. Spending several days at VVS each alumni work weekend for 30 years has brought me more laughs and tears and connection than I can recount. The projects that alumni tackle during work weekend are large-scale and important to the school’s appearance and infrastructure, and the amount of sweat that people are willing to put in is amazing. The result of participating in VVS field trips to experience new cultures inspired me to want more of the same. Many years after graduating I spent 3 years travelling the world on a sailboat.
 
VVS instilled in me a desire to change the world. That goal is still a work in progress, but a few small examples of how that has manifested include being a past member of the VVS board as well as playing a significant role in the opening of a music school in my small rural town. Most recently VVS has had another profound impact on me by launching Together Tuesdays, a zoom phone call where alumni, teachers, and parents come together to share ideas and discuss answers to thought provoking questions. The dozens of people from many generations that attend these meetings have become yet another family to me. The life paths that people have followed and choices they have made for careers and volunteer work are inspiring and amazing and truly world changing. The current headmaster Paul and his wife Donita are entrenched in the fabric of VVS to an extent I have not seen in previous headmasters. They love the school and believe in its mission and have created specific outcomes from their energy that are far reaching…..making sustainability, empathy, and humanitarianism the heart of all their efforts. VVS has my heart for always and forever.
 
AZ '87
 
Giving to a Healthy School 
 
Coping with Covid-19 in the community is difficult. I am fortunate to still be employed and blessed to be able to spend time with family. I know that each of us is affected by the pandemic in different ways - physically, emotionally, and financially. 
 
As Chair of the Advancement committee, most of my demands are related to ensuring our team is staying engaged with alumni and well-wishers of VVS. All of your contributions help us to build on the Warrens’ promise to educate global citizens at VVS.  
 
In the last two years, VVS has invested in improving the website’s layout and feel, running a comprehensive alumni database by partnering with Blackbaud, built many new relationships with alumni and friends in the greater Sedona community We have improved several aging classrooms, dorms, and faculty houses, and kept our friendship with the Warrens close to our hearts. Even the budget has been balanced for the past several years! Unfortunately, Covid-19 brought some unexpected challenges. 
 
The effect of Covid-19 on the United States is currently the most severe in the developed world. This means a few things for VVS: 
 
  • International students can't find flights and are unable to get to the US 
  • Many countries have placed a travel ban or high-level warning to travel to the United States 
  • Tensions rise between China and the US in the form of closed consulates  
  • A ban has been enforced disallowing Chinese students from entering the United States, even if they have a Visa. 
  • Parents hesitate to send their kids to Arizona due to the increased risk of Covid-19 
  • The immigration process is making it difficult to secure visas in time (I was personally affected by this too.) 
 
Covid-19 has impacted VVS in the form of less boarding students and less international students. The loss of tuition for VVS is significant. VVS has also spent an initial, additional $100,000 to take all precautions necessary to avoid Covid-19 transmission when the students return to campus. So, what’s different this time if you donate your money to VVS Covid Relief? You are giving to a VVS that is foundationally strong, has the best infrastructure we have seen in decades, and has inspirational leadership to carry forward the Warrens’ legacy.
 
Your gift to the Verde Valley School Covid Relief Fund supports faculty and staff salaries and critical operational expenses, now needed due directly to the loss of revenue normally generated by international student tuition. Recognizing the severity of the situation, several major donors have already committed to matching gifts dollar for dollar for VVS Covid Relief. Please join us in this effort to keep VVS moving strong in the right direction, and maintain all the ground we have already covered at this amazing school.
 
If you are interested in supporting VVS, but have additional questions, I encourage you to email advancement@vvsaz.org or to reach me directly by emailing atagrawalakshay@hotmail.com and ask – how is the school today? What is new? What is the same? When can I visit? What new traditions does the school have today? What are the newest field trips? Come take a walk down memory lane and reconnect with the days of the old. Every time I sit in the chapel and look out of the window, memories from over a decade ago come rushing in. How about you?
 
Akshay '06
 
To the VVS Community:
On July 22, 2020, James Edward Sarn died in the Warren House at VVS, surrounded by his entire family.
 
Jim was Leslie's husband, father, soldier, All American football star and life-long public servant. Jim graduated from West Point in 1963, was posted to the 82nd airborne and did a tour in Vietnam, where he earned two Bronze Stars. Jim earned his MD from Duke University and an MPH from the University of North Carolina.
 
Jim dove into the global public health field in hot zones around the world with our courageous sister, Leslie, accompanying him. He compiled an extensive resume in public health. One assignment was to guide the redevelopment of the medical system in Nicaragua after the 1973 earthquake. Another was to coordinate emergency famine relief to 7.5 million people in Sudan.
 
One of my favorite stories is that while working for the Aga Khan and just prior to the US war in Afghanistan, he concluded that to spend the Aga Khan’s resources effectively, he must complete a feasibility and needs assessment on the ground. In order to reach remote locations in Northern Afghanistan, Jim, just before dark, boarded a raft of inner tubes and sticks and swept down river with two Mujahadine bodyguards, an interpreter, four porters, medical supplies, and fifteen thousand dollars in local currency. After a two-hundred mile trek, he emerged safely with, “more information.”
 
Working for USAID, in 2002, Jim returned to Afghanistan away from his family and lived for three years in a shipping crate for safety. Due to Jim, girls go to school for the first time. There is a world class hospital and better roads.
 
His performance evaluation included these words: “…nothing less than a critical resource for the US mission in Afghanistan…incredible, highly efficient, goal oriented, a committed, competent and concerned professional, whose highest concern was for the welfare of the people, who benefited from his projects. A gentleman even in stressful situations.” 
 
The King of Afghanistan awarded Jim its highest civilian medal.
 
Jim served on the board of directors and lived on campus during his last years. While not a graduate Jim loved the school and respected the high calling of the mission statement. Jim was a global citizen who, through hard work, intercultural understanding, and creative problem solving, improved life for many. His service to humanity with a willing spirit is, in his family's eyes, unrivaled.
 
Jim Sarn embodied the type of person VVS was founded to advance.
 
His last words to me were; “Go make the world a better place.” 
 
Kevin Warren
 
In Memoriam
 
Please forward In Memoriam notices to advancement@vvsaz.org
and we will include them in our next newsletter.
 
Update us on your life after VVS by emailing advancement@vvsaz.org.
 
If you would like to submit a story or article about your VVS experience,
reach out to the Advancement Team at advancement@vvsaz.org.
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Verde Valley School is a co-educational, International Baccalaureate boarding and day school for students in grades 9-12.
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