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As it celebrates its 70th year, Verde Valley School welcomed 120 students to its campus this week, 30 of whom are day students who live in Sedona and the Verde Valley.

While the students started class on Monday, Aug. 21, they spent the days leading up to class getting ready for school and bonding with one another, as well as teachers and parents.

“We believe these kids are our best hope for tomorrow,” said director Paul Amadio.

He said while the school is academically rigorous, the International Baccalaureate curriculum focuses on developing the whole person — thus, the attention to community building before school starts.

After the boarding students arrived Sunday, all students and local parents attended orientation on Monday, where students attended sessions covering topics like internet use and other school policies, but also got their class schedules, filled out forms and records, and acquainted [or reacquainted] themselves with teachers and classrooms.

On Tuesday, the school celebrated Awesomeness Day, a longstanding tradition that focuses on one last day of fun before getting into the thick of schoolwork. A giant, inflatable slide and other carnival-like pieces turned the campus into a fairgrounds for the day, allowing students to spend free time together to kick off the school year.

Alex Gilbert, Lily Shivambo and Emily Amadei, all sophomore day students from Sedona, spent the day reconnecting with friends they hadn’t seen over the summer, as well as welcoming new students, like fellow 10th-grader Emma Wight.

They shared that while they’re excited for fun traditions, like Awesomeness Day and another event called Fire Run, where they have a bonfire in the parking lot, wear facepaint and dance in a drum circle, they’re also looking forward to diving into subjects they’re interested in.

“I’m able to be challenged here, really challenge myself,” Gilbert said.

She’s taking two science classes this year, including chemistry, and gearing up for higher-level math classes, all in preparation of getting into a school that offers a degree in neuropsychology.

“We do a lot of experiments here, rather than just book learning,” Amadei added about their chemistry class.

Meanwhile, newcomer Wight is looking forward to exercising her thespian side in a theater class.

“I’m excited to have more of an opportunity to express that side of me,” said Wight, who was doing online school before starting at VVS this year.

These Sedona locals are called day students, but they often spend much more time at school than a typical high schooler: They roll in before 8 a.m. to catch breakfast and check-in, and often don’t leave until 7 or 8 p.m.

Between classes that take up the regular school day, homework snuck in between breaks and extracurricular activities like sports, students — day and boarders alike — build a community that becomes a home away from home.

Nancy Calbi, Gilbert’s mom, brought her to VVS last year for that exact reason. She said she wanted her daughter to get the best education possible, while getting involved in the school’s community.

“When I started meeting the teachers and the administrators here, it was like a dream,” she said. “It’s such a loving, caring environment.”

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