Part of every boarding school’s orientation and new school year is connecting new students and faculty to the school’s history, story, and beliefs- bringing everyone into the fold.
Learning to become part of a community larger than oneself is one of boarding school’s great unwritten lessons. Everyone needs to know, internalize, and commit to practice the values that they’ve agreed to live by as members of their school community.
Verde Valley School (Sedona, AZ) takes a lively approach to building their community at the start of each school year; one I’m inclined to like.
VVS consciously brings the school’s past to life using the school’s history, values, and alumni experience to connect new students and faculty to the school’s core values and to those who’ve come before them.
Most schools accomplish binding the community each year, building relationships, and internalizing beliefs through osmosis; students begin participating in, then absorbing, then internalizing the school’s culture.
All those plaques on the chapel wall commemorating those who came before you. Decades, or a couple of hundred years, of graduates, award winners and accomplishments- you get it- maybe.
Refusing to rely on osmosis to communicate school history, values, and culture, VVS establishes the living importance of the community’s shared experiences by coming together for ‘History Night‘ to begin the school year.
‘History Night’ presentations and traditions establish the importance of the VVS endeavor by bringing alumni back to campus to share their stories, experiences, and the ways that they carry the VVS lessons through their adult lives.
Living experience provides a great opportunity to build the community to start the year- bringing everyone- past and present- into an important, shared, and valued experience. Everyone learns about the school’s founding, what the school stands for, what everyone believes, who’s come before them and why it’s all important.
VVS is fortunate to still have community members directly connected to the school’s founding. Leslie Warren Sarn ’61 (daughter of VVS founders, Hamilton and Babs Warren) offered this ‘History Night’ observation of her father’s faith in going west to found a new school:
“What motivated Dad to start a High School? He felt that if young people from different countries work and study together, they might grow to understand and learn that we are all rather alike! We all like a good education. We all like to eat good food. We all want to have good friends and friendships. For example, not all of us have traveled to China, but we can learn from all of you who come from China while you are here at VVS about your parents, your dreams, the food you like and your ideas…..just by being here together in the same classes, in the same dorms, on the same teams, eating together. Some of us may not have been to Russia, but we might learn a few phrases in Russian if we sit in the same class next to someone from Moscow – for example, ‘snayu pa ruskie ochen jarasho!!’ (this means “I speak Russian very well” and is about all I can say!) The world is a big place, but the world can become smaller and more friendly if we learn about each other’s dreams, food tastes, habits and traditions.”(VVS)
VVS continues living and practicing these values every day. A vibrant living past renews VVS every year and keeps everyone’s eyes on the future.