A school is many things, but first and last it ought to be a place where young people learn how to think for themselves. This is our goal at Verde Valley School, however, our mission is even more ambitious.
A genuinely educated person is not simply one who has attained impressive academic and professional success. Our sights are set on higher ground, difficult terrain which tests and animates our teaching and our learning. Ours is a legacy shaped by earnest and bold endeavor.
At VVS, citizenship, courage and a commitment to the improvement of the world are our standards. Our graduates are ethical, possessed of a strong sense of personal and social responsibility, skilled in ways that will enable them to participate effectively in community building and decision making, and appreciative of the necessity and value of physical work. They are open to the discovery and enduring satisfactions of artistic creation, knowledgeable about the depth and range of our shared cultural heritage, prepared for entry into the college of their choice. Our community is generous in spirit, mindful of the importance of citizenship and ready to practice its privileges and obligations. Our standards are set beyond our everyday grasp. But they are not beyond our reach. How did such ambitions take root? Consider our history and its continuing challenge.
Founded in 1946 by Hamilton and Barbara Warren, VVS opened in 1948 with sixteen students and a small handful of teachers and artists, dedicated from its beginning to change the world. Mindful of the global horrors of World War II and the ravages of ethnocentrism and racism in this country, the Warrens believed that America – indeed the world – needed a school where the values of cultural diversity would be understood and celebrated, not simply studied and tolerated.
Raised in New England and a graduate of Harvard College, Ham drew on the counsel of a diverse number of scholars and public leaders to enact the dream that he and Babs set their lives upon.
Babs contributed the unique experience of growing up in Guatemala, the child of British coffee plantation owners, with a lifetime commitment to foreign languages and diverse cultures. With great energy and open-heartedness, Babs established VVS’s unique tradition of community life. Each year, the award to a graduating member of the senior class, The Warren Family Citizenship Award, commemorates the enduring vision of Ham and Babs Warren.
Other distinctive lives and talents also significantly contributed to the School’s founding mission and continuing vitality. Ham’s mentor at Harvard, Clyde Kluckhohn – the first President of the modern American Anthropological Association, for twenty-five years the Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Harvard, and one of the earliest group of Rhodes Scholars – added his reputation as a truly international educator and inspirational teacher to Ham’s visionary work. Kluckhohn learned Navajo by the age of fifteen and set a standard for the importance and value of engaging cultures different from one’s own that has become a VVS tradition. Other early voices that helped shape the founding generation of the School included Margaret Mead, one of the century’s most articulate exponents of both anthropological studies and progressive education, and John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.
Founder & First Headmaster
Barbara (Babs) Warren
First Graduating Class
Ham and Babs chose Sedona based on its proximity to the indigenous tribes of Mexico to the south and the Native American lands of Northern Arizona to the north. In the early days, students became anthropologists during three-week trips to each of these locations through the VVS Field Trip Program.
So began the adventure in experiential and intercultural education which is Verde Valley School. Over seventy years later, the School continues to draw upon our progressive past to inform our future. While no truly vital community ever stays as it was originally created, our integrity remains rooted in the strength of our founding convictions.
It was the Warren’s vision that students learn in vivo in addition to in libro, live in and contribute to a diverse community and to, in the words of Margaret Mead, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”