Recently our Director of Health Services, Mattie Guelinas, (pictured above, third from right) traveled to Haiti over the winter break to volunteer her time for the people in a country that has been repeatedly decimated by environmental catastrophe and political havoc for centuries, but more recently by the 2010 earthquake and hurricane Mathew in 2016. Here’s her story:
Director of Global Goals & Equestrian Programs
The December Food Neighbors Project Collection for the Village of Oak Creek was held at Webers Supermarket on Saturday, 12/9. VVS students Sara, Jamie, Camille and Valys volunteered with Caroline. It was a fabulous collection which greatly helped to restock the shelves of the VVS Pantry and will provide the food for our Weekend Meal Packs for hungry kids at Big Park and Desert Star. Eleven faculty also provided a green bag of food again this month as part of our new-this-year “VVS Neighborhood”.
This year marks Verde Valley School’s 70th year anniversary!
This morning, early, I saw two VVS students returning from the stable. They had checked on and fed the horses that some twenty-eight students ride each day here. Theirs was clearly a labor of love. The sun was rising, just breaking over Seven Warriors. Shafts of light were beaming through some cloud cover. The students went on to breakfast in the dining hall sitting with others from Germany, Rwanda, Colorado and New Jersey. Soon it was time for their first class and, abruptly, they stood up, bussed their plates, found their backpacks and bounded off. Another day?
Hardly. Midst the frenzy and excitement that the start of a new year brings to VVS, I considered those moments — unsung and largely unnoticed — as key ingredients of the experience our students have here. The stable and barn sit on a bluff overlooking not only the Seven Warriors but Cathedral Rock, too, with the VVS farm nestled between them. These iconic red rock formations are familiar territory for students, faculty and staff. We hike and bike and climb on them throughout the year. In the farm, tall corn stalks sway in the breeze. Students will harvest them soon. A remarkable “sense of place” surrounds us.
We do have stats and facts: that VVS is ranked #15 out of the top 50 boarding schools in the USA by Best Schools; that our International Baccalaureate curriculum “…aims to develop students who have excellent breadth and depth of knowledge — students who flourish physically, intellectually, emotionally and ethically.”; that the VVS IB Diploma Program has an 86% pass rate and that 81% of all subjects taken result in scores of 4-7; that we have graduates matriculating into premier colleges and universities in this country and abroad, often with substantial merit-based financial awards.
But VVS offers so much more. Our IB+Dirt model allows students to learn, discover, give, and grow inside and out of the classroom; already we are busy preparing for Field Trips in November. These transformative outdoor adventures take students out of their usual surroundings, engaging them in a culture different from their own. And all Field Trips include a community service aspect to them. Our guiding principles attract students, faculty and staff from around the globe. Be assured that these principles, along with IB+Dirt, leave students indelibly touched and influenced by the experiences of global citizenship, physical labor, environmental stewardship, service to others and academic excellence.
Soon VVS Admissions will be in China, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Germany, Vietnam and India. We’ll also be in Arizona, California, Utah, Colorado and Nevada sharing our unique story with others. And seeing those young students walking quietly back from working in the stable, so early in the morning, reminded me of that story all over again.
Over the summer of 2017, eight VVS students and two teachers set off for the distant continent of Africa to participate in the true meaning of service and global citizenship in the living classroom of Malawi. Here the group spent the month of June working at a grassroots level supporting communities that are empowering their own youth to create change. The annual visit to Malawi is part of the VVS Global Goals Program.
In Namalo Village the students painted the Chief’s house and the pit latrines at the feeding center that were built by last year’s VVS students.
Over $10,000 of cloth baby diapers, transported in the student’s luggage, were eagerly received by the Open Arms Infant Homes in Mangochi.
The group also delivered thousands of dollars of science equipment, 2 sets of soccer uniforms, and 150 Days for Girls Menstrual Kits to the Hillside Secondary School where VVS sponsors 25 girls.
At the Pemphero Secondary School our group was greeted with songs and smiles from local students who include 17 girls sponsored by VVS.
During a visit to Msinje Village, our group helped construct a new feeding center.
Having spent many long hours sorting reading glasses back at VVS, our students were rewarded with the joy of distributing over 3,000 pairs of glasses, and 40 pairs of specialty glasses for pre-identified, severely low vision children.
Participants: Alex Tehfi, William Schwindenhammer, Alexia Lino, Hanna Hartwig, Nam Ha, Kat Guillot, Kate Brovina, Xander Kraus-McLean, and teachers Caroline Diehl and Natalie Rockwell.
Click here to see the 2017 Malawi Photo Gallery
Quotes from our VVS Students
The Malawi program is one of the greatest opportunities a school could offer to its students. This trip has taught me so much about compassion, kindness, gratefulness, and respect like no other experience has before. Serving others submerged in the unfamiliar has shaped the way I perceive different cultures and has shown me how important volunteering is to our world. I believe that anyone who is willing to work hard and live outside their comfort zone for 3 short weeks will never regret it! William Schwindenhammer, Class of 2018
The people of Malawi have a Mungoli happiness. They are constantly in rhythm with themselves and the people around them. They know how to create their own sunshine, they know how to find the gold from the stone, and they repay the gratitude with grace and gratitude. The people of Malawi are not happy just because it seems like a good end result or for anyone else, they are happy because the happiness comes from them as a choice within themselves. They make the most out of everyday and THAT is why Malawi is the warm heart of Africa.
Kat Guillot, Class of 2017
Malawi was eye opening in every way imaginable. The pure happiness of everyone we came across was heartwarming and was radiated in such a way that I couldn’t help but smile throughout every encounter with the Malawian people. I could write about countless moments, every day was a new adventure and a new insight, but the aspect of the trip that stuck out the most was how much education meant to the people we came across, specifically girls. When we went to Pemphero school in Mangochi, we were greeted by the sponsored girls via songs, dances, and, typical of Malawi, smiles. They sang about how much education meant to them in a way that I’ve never seen before living in the U.S. It really hit me how much we take for granted, and that things that seem small to us really do matter. Malawi changed my outlook on life and I’m beyond grateful for the experience, everything we did, and who we met along the way. Hanna Hartwig, Class of 2018
She said yes. Then I broke down but this time with tears of joy. It seemed unbelievable [Alexia spent 3 years trying to convince her parents to allow her to go to Malawi]. The process of getting to Malawi was a roller coaster, it broke me down and brought me up to only be brought back down… But when we finally arrived in Malawi, I knew that everything was worth it. The roller coaster led me to the most beautiful place in the world to meet the kindest people in the world. I would ride the roller coaster again in a heartbeat.
Alexia Lino, Class of 2017
Through Malawi I discovered how easy my life is and how privileged I am to have food, water, and an education right in front of me with no form of struggle. After the trip I understood the value of my privileges: this will make me work ten times harder than usual and not have any excuses to my adversities. Volunteering fulfills my life purpose and happiness, therefore I shall go outside and chase the world for the rest of my life.
Alexandre Tehfi, Class of 2018
Mike Spielman ~ VVS Farm Manager
We planted garlic the other day. It went into one of the first beds we ever dug back in 2013, just to the south of the gate between a fading amaranth and the frozen stems of a Roma Olorode. I remember the three students who helped chop that dirt for the first time: one from California, another from South Korea, and the other from Saudi Arabia. We wondered if life was more like a circle or a spiral. We had no answers. Only wonder.
December is my favorite time on the farm. Cabbages and greens are tucked beneath their winter sheets. The leaves of the fruit trees have blown into their wells. The Osgood Greenhouse is full of banana plants, mangoes and peppers. Seeds are drying. Squash are cured. The field is laid bare and we can begin to dream about next year’s design.
Walking around the new expansion I remember that this time last year it did not exist. There was no greenhouse either. The fencing for the southern expansion is now more than half done. Last month we ordered 57 fruit trees. Fifty seven fruit trees! Eleven pears. Seven peaches. Six plums. Sixteen apples. Persimmons, nectarines, quince and sixty grape vines too. A lot of holes to dig between now and March!
We are back at the Sedona Farmer’s Market. Please stop in and say hello if you are local. We are selling heirloom beans, winter squash, dried peppers, and Jerusalem artichokes. Most of the greens right now are going to the Yavapai Food Council. If you are a gardener and live far away, drop us a line. We’ll send some seeds.
A thousand thank you’s to all who have supported us this year! We are honored and blessed and as always, excited to get back to work.
It’s only natural that a school with such a deep dedication to the environment would celebrate Earth Day the way we do at VVS.
After regular Friday classes, students and faculty will meet at the garden expansion to work on the new vegetable beds. Following dinner, author Bill Carter will talk to the school about the copper mining industry and his book “Boom Bust Boom,” which is also our summer reading. The evening concludes with our annual recycled fashion show, organized by students Grace Shoup and Lola Olorode.
Visit the VVS gallery at www.vvsaz.org/galleries for photos.
Join VVS for a “Learn to Meditate” program hosted by Shambhala Center of Phoenix, led by Amy Kemp and including a short talk on meditation, sitting practice, and refreshments. The event is free, casual, and open to anyone tonight at 6:30 in Brady Hall.
Wednesday night’s 7th Annual Hunger Banquet to benefit the VVS Global Goals Program was a huge success, not only raising awareness of global and local hunger issues, but also bringing in over $5,200 through ticket and raffle sales. All money raised will make its way to Global Goals initiatives locally and in Malawi, Africa.
Brady Hall was filled with over 200 community members – from VVS and the local Sedona community – as the Verde Valley School theater department partnered with the Global Goals program to present a night of interactive theater coupled with a dinner fashioned on the Oxfam Hunger Banquet to bring home issues surrounding global and local poverty and hunger.
Diners entered Brady Hall after choosing at random a piece of paper detailing the place they would take at the table – low, middle or high class – and determining the meal that they would receive. Once seated – lower class on the floor with table cloths eating rice, middle class at chairs eating rice, beans and bok choy grown in the VVS garden, and high class at tables with linens with a multi-course dinner including steak – the program was introduced by Global Goals member Cindy Ji, ’17, who traveled with the school to Malawi last summer. Cindy explained the purpose of the evening and shared global and local poverty and food insecurity statistics with the crowd. Cindy was joined by Noa Lee, ’16, who also made the trip to Malawi last summer and Isabella Primavera, ’17, who will travel to Malawi this summer, as emcees for the evening.
To further humanize the plight of food insecurity, theater students performed monologues they had written, portraying situations all around the world – drought, job loss, political instability, and illness – that can send families into poverty. Theater students performing monologues included Talie Peck, ’17; Gaby Grosbetty, ’16; Tyrien Fixico, ’17; Tiffany Tian, ’16; Gracie Shoup-Lenning, ’16; Drake Busby, ’16; Loloa Olorode, ’16; Maya Shen, ’16; Morgan Bailey, ’17, Galen Coburn-Amadio, ’17; and Kevin Chisolm, ’17. Maya traveled to Malawi with the MDG Malawi group last summer and Morgan, Galen and Kevin will make the trip this summer.
The Global Goals program at VVS works throughout the school year to educate students and the community on the issues outlined by the United Nations in their Global Goals initiative. In addition to raising awareness, the group works to supply over 50 Verde Valley families with weekend food through the Backpacks for Hungry Kids program. Globally, the group works for nearly 4 weeks in the summer on various projects in Malawi, Africa ranging from pre-natal health, maternal health, girls’ education, and in conjunction with the Sedona Lions Club to provide over 5,000 pairs of eyeglasses to Malawians through their annual eyeglass clinics in Blantyre and Zomba.
To learn more about the Global Goals program (formerly MDG Malawi) visit www.vvsaz.org/mdg-malawi. To learn more about Backpacks for Hungry Kids visit www.vvsaz.org/backpacks-for-kids.
This Monday, February 29th, Verde Valley School will once again Fast for a Meal to benefit the Backpacks for Kids program. The last Monday of each month the VVS community skips lunch in the dining hall and the school donates the money we would spend preparing that meal ($300 per lunch) to alleviate local hunger.
To date, VVS and a current VVS family donor have been able to contribute $1,800 to the Backpacks for Hungry Kids program. Program coordinator Caroline Diehl uses the funds to buy additional protein sources, shelf stable milk and 100% fruit juice for the program. The program also receives fresh fruit donations from the Sedona Women’s Group and the Gibson family.
The VVS community will continue to fast for a meal the last Monday of each month throughout the end of the school year. Consider fasting for a meal yourself or at your business.
Anyone driving onto campus the last two weeks would have noticed more than the usual early spring planting preparations at the garden. Farm Manager Mike Spielman and Sustainability Coordinator John Chorlton have been digging in the dirt working on part one of a three part garden expansion.
Thanks to a $10,000 grant from an anonymous garden benefactor, the two have purchased and are now finishing the building of a new greenhouse.
The generosity and belief in the VVS Farm don’t end there however. We’ve also recently received a $25,000 grant from local sustainability-focused developer Thomas McPherson. This generous donation will enable us to move through the next two phases of expansion. VVS Board of Trustees member Will Buckling,’80, has also been instrumental in the expansion.
Phase two and three will include, but are not limited to, leveling and fencing off the northern expansion and orchard space and building raised beds.
All of the expansion is planned with a couple things in mind. Two very important objectives are to meet more of the VVS food needs, while also growing and contributing produce to the Yavapai Food Council’s Bountiful Kitchen program, which provides whole food meals to at-risk children in our county – one in three children in the Verde Valley is food insecure. Finally, we will use a portion of the production for entrepreneurial programs to help fund and sustain the farm. As with every project at VVS, every piece of this is tied to the School’s guiding principles.
Needless to say, Paul, Mike, John and the entire VVS community are so pleased and grateful for the support to make this happen.