Commencement Weekend 2016

It’s hard to believe that Commencement Weekend 2016 is right around the corner. The Class of 2016 will be awarded their diplomas the morning of Saturday, May 28 on the VVS quad at 9:30 am. The weekend is filled with celebrations to honor the class.

Festivities begin on Friday with an afternoon reception from 3:30 to 5:00 for seniors and their parents and hosted by Head of School Paul Amadio. An all-school bbq on the quad follows at 5:30 with dessert in Brady Hall after. We cap the night with our annual Baccalaureate Night, a celebration of our top scholars, athletes, artists and activists at 6:30 in Brady Hall. A visual arts show will be up for viewing in Avery Gallery.

Saturday morning we will offer breakfast in the dining hall from 7:00 am until 9:00 am. The Class of 2016 will begin their procession to the quad at 9:30 am. Lunch is served after the ceremony at 11:30 am.

The Class of 2016 is Verde Valley School’s sixty-sixth graduating class.

Click here to register for Commencement Weekend.


As we continue to celebrate our alumni and their accomplishments, today, International Women’s Day, seems fitting that we honor Betsy Brown Braun, Class of ’66. 

Betsy Brown Braun, best selling author of Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents (HarperCollins) and You’re Not The Boss Of Me: Bratproofing Your Four To Twelve Year Old(HarperCollins), is a child development and behavior specialist, parent educator, multiple birth parenting consultant, and founder of Parenting Pathways®, Inc.

Continue Reading…

Nancy Green Print Workshop

Nancy Green, ’69, visited VVS last week to resurrect the old printing press and give students in visual arts classes a workshop on the press.  

Nancy, a notable artist and classmate of ceramics and photography teacher Jeff Perkins finalized the idea of getting the printing press going again and teaching a new generation of VVS students to use it this past summer when Jeff and his wife Crissy visited Nancy and her husband Jerome West, ’66 at their home.  Jerome joins the Anasazi field trip each November, walking our students up into canyons and showing them amazing rock art.

Nancy has contributed her artistry to VVS many times in the past, most recently by offering a printmaking project period.  In addition to donating her time to students, Nancy also donated the materials used in the workshop and to working on the press.

Nancy and Jerome live in Torrey, Utah where she paints abstract landscapes inspired by Capitol Reef country.


You can learn more about Nancy and her art at


A Letter from our Board President

January 26, 2016

Newly appointed Board of Trustees President Tamara Nydell Cook, ’83

It is with heartfelt honor and humility that I assume the role of President of the Verde Valley School Board of Trustees. The exceptionally hard work and dedication of time, talent, treasure and leadership given to this Board and the School by my predecessor, Amie Rodnick, has kept us on the path to steady progress and strategic growth. Thank you, Amie!

Our Board of Trustees, like our Head of School, students, faculty, staff, and alumni, strive to embrace and promote the global mission of this small corner of paradise – Academic Excellence, World Citizenship, Environmental Stewardship, Physical Labor and Service to Others. Some have artfully coined this “IB + Dirt.” Others say it’s all about “the Rock.” Whatever the jingle, I dare say VVS has succeeded even through the most challenging of times. Many lives have been touched by this place and many more will be touched in the years to come. As the new year gets underway, so, too, do our strategic plans for continued growth and development. But we cannot do this alone.

Join us! Beginning February 2016, we are introducing THE BOARD’S CORNER – our way of reaching out to you with news and information, updates and commentary. Get connected. Stay connected. Be informed. Get involved. Learn more. Spread the word. Recruit. Donate. Engage. Participate.

Tamara Nydell Cook (Class of 1983)
President of the Board of Trustees
Verde Valley School

BOT On Campus

The Verde Valley School Board of Trustees will meet for their bi-annual on-campus meeting (monthly meetings are telephonic) this Thursday and Friday.

In addition to their meetings, BOT members will spend time with students, faculty and staff while on campus. Board members will visit classes on Thursday and host a faculty reception on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, BOT members will have lunch in the dining gall with students.

Friday’s meetings are open session and the public is invited to attend. Open Session runs form 9:00 am – 4:00 pm and will be held at the Head of School’s house on campus. The agenda includes:

9:00 – 9:15 Election of Officers

9:15-11:30 Mission Update from the Head of School

1:15-3:00 Strategic Planning Presentation and Discussion

3:00 – 3:30 Committee Goal Setting from Strategic Planning

Ms. Schucker

Christie McIntyre Schucker, ’82, Alumni Update

In December 2015, Christie McIntyre Schucker, ’82, received her Master of Science degree in Biology from Eastern Washington University. For her thesis, Stream Microbial Communities along an Agricultural Gradient, she assessed the microbial ecology of an agriculturally impacted watershed that resides within one of the most endangered ecosystems in our country, the Palouse Prairie. She is currently seeking publication of her research in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Continue Reading…

Hopi Harvest

Saturday eight VVS students and three teachers left Family Weekend a bit early to assist with the Fall Hopi corn harvest.  In a tangible example of VVS diversity, each of the eight students hailed from a different nation – the Yavapai-Apache Nation, Rwanda, Vietnam, China, Germany, Mexico, Spain and Nigeria. They came together to work with VVS Anthropology teacher Leigh Carter and her friend Michael Kotutwa Johnson to shuck thousands of ears of blue, red, white and yellow corn that Michael had harvested the day before. The corn will be used for different foods and ceremonies.  Michael also taught the students the art of making parched corn.

You can see photos from the weekend at




John Dinwiddie, ’57, Memorial

john dinwiddie

It is with sadness that we communicate the passing of John Dinwiddie, Class of ’57.


Last week John passed away from heart failure, after safely pulling to the side of the road near his home in Santa Rosa, California.  John had his first heart attack followed by quintuple bypass surgery in early 1994. The family remains grateful to the Fremont Fire Department and the medical team for their heroic effort back then, allowing him over two decades more as a result of their heroic efforts back then.


John attended Verde Valley School from 1953 to 1957. Upon graduation he studied briefly at Tulane University before military service. John earned his MA in music from the University of California, Davis studying composition with John Cage and Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, but eventually made his career as an engineer.


An accomplished pianist, John enjoyed playing for visitors at Jack London Park in Glen Ellen in the later years of his life.  He met his wife Gerda while serving in the Army in Luebeck, West Germany, and they were married there in 1962.  They lived in the East Bay through 1996, before settling in Santa Rosa.


A passionate outdoor photographer and environmentalist, John taught his children to leave a place better than they found it during their backpacking trips in the Desolation Wilderness.


He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Gerda Dinwiddie of Santa Rosa, CA, their sons Eric Dinwiddie of Oakland, CA, Karl Dinwiddie (Sandra) of Cameron Park, CA, grandson Aaron Dinwiddie of Berkeley, CA, sister Bettie Linthicum of Lakewood, WA and her 4 children and grandchildren.


There will be a private “Dia de los Muertos” celebration of his life.


The family requests that in lieu of flowers, to make a donation in his memory to their favorite organization for wildlife and wild land preservation.


In a 2014 interview Dinwiddie talked about the early days at VVS and its influence on his musical journey:


“I went to an unusual progressive prep school when I was 13, the Verde Valley School near Sedona. The co-ed Verde Valley School was 5 years old in 1953, with a student body of 120 and a student-faculty ratio of 1 to 10. VVS had a huge record library in its music building, and I wasted no time exploring it. In it was the complete works of Varèse, of Webern as well. I first heard Bartok’s Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion, Ravel’s piano concerto and the Capriccio of Stravinsky, both of them revelations, as was Varèse’s Ionisation. And Martinu’s Sinfonietta Giacosa. Martinu never topped it.


So one might say that I discovered avant garde music in 1953 at VVS. But classical music also grew on me, and my first hearing of the D minor Piano Concerto by Brahms was decisive. I did not yet know Beethoven’s 9th, so I did not know the reference, but I did know that the piano entrance was an extraordinary departure from any piano entrance to a concerto that I had ever heard. Its return to the volcanic trills of the opening was magnificent and elegant. The second movement I decided was the greatest single composition I had ever heard in my life. I still consider it one of the supreme works of the 19th century. That changed me. Steve Soomil, who went on to become a student of Milhaud at Mills College, wrote in my yearbook, “to Brahms’s greatest fan.”


Music at VVS was everywhere. We had annual three week long anthropological field trips deep into Mexico, a similar one week trip in the fall onto the Navajo and Hopi reservations. In both cases students were deposited in small groups at one place or another, sometimes just one student, perhaps at some remote school or Navajo shepherd’s Hogan, left there, to be picked up at the end of the trip. Spanish was a requirement. 10% of the students played guitars and sang folk songs in English and Spanish. The rest of us joined in. We all sang. Our Spanish teacher who had grown up during the Spanish Civil War made up songs for us, many ridiculous. We had work jobs to justify a fair tuition with many scholarships. We built our own school. So Mara would give us a work song: “Vamos todos depresita a trabajar, holgazones no podemos soportar.” We wasted no time making adjustments. “Vamos todos depresita a chingar…” She would start each class, “Viva España! Abajo Franco.” Because in those days Franco was still not at all “abajo.”


We were taught extreme self sufficiency. One night on the Mexico Trip, in the middle of nowhere, the school bus headlights failed. Ham Warren, the intrepid founder of the school commanded us, “just fix it.” Phil Dempster, a science whiz, did just that, and our caravan continued.


Two more tales, about events on the Navajo trip:


The first happened when I was a freshman. Hamilton Warren was rich, and the school had been established with his family money. He was also very tough and on the ground if a bit reserved with the students. On the Navajo Trip Ham as always drove the old school bus, the most unpredictable and largest vehicle in the VVS caravan. He was taking us up Navajo Mountain to a Yeibichai.


The road was steep, narrow, unpaved, rutted, precipitous drops here and there. We drove the whole trip in 2nd gear. We arrived after midnight, tumbled out half asleep and looked upon the scene. We were on a large plateau about 3/4 the way up the mountain. What we saw was a huge circle of people, at least 100, who were doing a static two step around a bon fire twelve feet high that sent sparks and smoke far above the crowd. Dust from the dancing ringed the smoke like an upside down atomic bomb. The scene was sepia, all earth tones, beyond the intense yellow light of the fire, every dancer in dusty tan attire, couples all the way around the circle, singles interspersed. It was informal. people would join in, drop out, come back. It had been going on since sundown, and it would go on until dawn.


And in step with their static sted they chanted incessantly, “hey ya, hey ya…”


I looked at it, and I wondered why Ham had taken all the risks to drag us up a dangerous montain road just to see this rather boring scene. But I also answered the question with another: “what was I missing?” I knew that what I saw was utterly alien to my experience but not to the Navajo. To them the proceedings were sacred ritual. So what might that have been? This was my initiation to tantra and mantra. That prepared me for Pran Nath.


The following year the group that I was with went to stay for a week at the Rocky Mountain Indian School near Brigham City, Utah. This was a Dept. of Indian Affairs vocational boarding school. George Boyce, on our Board of Directors, was director here.


It was as long a haul for the Navajo Trip as any made. It was a bitter November, and I was to get a bad case of the flu that approached pneumonia before it was over, but I was young and recovered quickly enough. Each caravan truck required always a “shotgun” companion in the cab to guard against the risk of a driver falling asleep. One night I had that duty, and the radio was on. Suddenly we heard this eerie baritone voice…


“I keep a close watch on this heart of mine, I’ll walk the line.”


We heard Johnny Cash as he first happened. As with the Brahms, I knew that I would never forget it, and out there, on that lonely highway, snow falling…


At Rocky Mountain School, too many stories compete, but only one about music. Navajo chant has a default two note refrain, “Hey ya, hey ya…” one hearts it in the Yebichai not as refrain but as mantra.


Also everywhere on the radio, on jukeboxes, the music was American pop music. No “hey ya.” So one day we were in the school canteen buying soda pop when on kid started songing “Do not forsake me oh darling… hey ya hey ya…”


I was later to learn that music notation may have started in response to the inability of Rome to control the liturgy in its new trans Alpine acquisitions. The Frankish tribes would do their pagan version of this troping. “Kyrie Eleison… hey ya” (their counterpart.)


VVS never ran a tourist operation for rich kids, even if a few of them were. it was up to date on the most enlightened anthropological concerns, and Ruth Benedict’s Culture in Crisis was on everyone’s reading list, about the threats to the Hopi culture.


The kind of troping that we hears in this canteen reflected just that threat. In Black Canyon under the Hopi reservation, we once saw at a government outpost a huge sign next to the highway that said, “TRADITION IS THE ENEMY OF PROGRESS.” And the theme of Oliver LaFarge’s Laughing Boy, also on our reading list, was that the product of severe sulture clash is death. Preparing students to assist in this crisis was the second mission of the Verde Valley School. And I was learning now that music was a canary in the mine shaft that reported on the progress of this issue.


There was in fact no school like VVS anywhere in the U. S. A.”.


You can read the interview in its entirety at

Change to VVS Annual Calendar

After an online polling of all current student families and VVS faculty, a decision was made to change the dates of the 2015-2016 spring break.  The new dates for spring break 2016 are March 11 through 21, with campus departure on March 11 and student return on March 21.

The dates have been adjusted on the website calendar. You can click below for an updated PDF of the annual calendar.

2015-2016 VVS Calendar-3

The School Year Begins

Monday, August 17 we welcomed 114 students – some new, some returning – to our Sedona campus to begin the 2015-2016 school year.  Faculty, staff, and students gathered for orientation and registration on Tuesday and Awesomeness Day and History Night on Wednesday. Our community settled into classes by Thursday.

Here’s a bit of demographic insight into our community:

Students: 114

Countries Represented: 19 (Afghanistan, China, Denmark, El Salvador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Korea, Nigeria, Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Syria, Turkey and Vietnam)

States Represented: 13 (Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Maine, New Hampshire,  New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas, Washington, Wyoming)

Native American Nations: 3 (Hopi, Seminole, Yavapai-Apache)

Freshmen: 15

Sophomores: 21

Juniors: 50

Seniors: 28

all school

The 2015-2016 Verde Valley School Community