A new K-5 school is coming to Edwards this fall | VailDaily.com

A new K-5 school is coming to Edwards this fall

Vail Valley Unbound is currently enrolling independent learners for its non-traditional school model

A rendering of Vail Valley Unbound, a new K-5 school that is opening in Edwards Riverwalk in fall 2023.
Vail Valley Unbound/Courtesy Photo

It was Cassie and Zach Boca’s eldest child’s curiosity and love of big questions that led them down the road to wanting to open a school for independent learners in Eagle County. Now, this fall, they are preparing to open Vail Valley Unbound, a K-5 school that is steering away from the traditional school model.

“The discussion, the ability to be curious is more important than landing on the right answer,” Zach Boca said in a previous interview with the Vail Daily. “Going back to that Socratic discussion where that authority, voting on how we want to run the classroom, guiding discussions, that’s all driven by what the students land on. It is sort of, in a way, a ‘Lord of Flies’ form of self-governance model that we’re going for; which is both terrifying but very exciting.”

Vail Valley Unbound will be an affiliate of Acton Academy and accredited through the International Association of Learner Driven Schools. Through Acton, Unbound will receive curriculum and materials. However, the students themselves will largely drive how the materials are learned.

As the Bocas get the ball rolling, they have secured a location for the school as well as a lead guide (which is what they’re calling the school’s teachers) and are building toward the school’s first year.

The school will be located in the Edwards Riverwalk, just below Ptarmigan Sports, at 137 Main Street, G-004. The location, Cassie Boca said, brings a lot of opportunities for the students.

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“We’re on the river side of the Riverwalk and so we actually will have tons of outdoor access and lots of opportunities for kids to be outside learning,” Cassie Boca said.

Also, being in Riverwalk opened up opportunities with partners like Alpine Arts, Mountain Recreation and Eagle River Watershed Council. All of which will allow “our learners to be able to move around throughout their day and spend tons of time outside,” Cassie Boca said. This includes activities like participating in river restoration projects with the watershed council, riding bikes to the rec center and doing art projects at Alpine Arts.

All of this lends itself well to the school’s model and curriculum, which relies not only on the Socratic discussion model but also on project-based learning.

Finding leaders

Unbound also recently hired Heather McMahon, a long-time Eagle County local and early childhood educator, to serve as the school’s Lead Guide and head up the school and its curriculum.

McMahon has been in Eagle County for around 18 years and opened her own in-home preschool in 2013 in Eagle. The preschool — The Youth Enrichment School or YES — will close as she moves over to Unbound in the fall.

Throughout her years in education, social and emotional learning has driven McMahon’s educational philosophy.

“Every day my students and I spend time recognizing, understanding, labeling, and expressing how things make us feel,” she said. “Based on my experience, when children are comfortable and familiar with how feelings work, they become more empathetic and are better prepared to learn.”

McMahon first connected with Cassie Boca as their sons began to explore BMX racing at the Eagle bike track last summer. However, quickly, they bonded over a shared vision of education and, “as they say, the rest is history,” McMahon said.

For McMahon, Cassie and Zac were what drew her to the school and made her want to join.

“They shared their vision for a school that was less traditional, one that focused on learner-driven success and the importance of developing a growth mindset,” McMahon said. “It’s completely parallel to the type of education that my husband and I want for our own son as he moves into kindergarten next year. When they asked me to partner on this journey, I had to say yes.”

In addition to bringing McMahon on board, Cassie Boca said that a new board member will also bring a unique perspective and opportunity to the school. This new board member is Dr. Nichole Swann, who founded a group of pediatric psychology clinics known as the Swann Clinics.

“It’s a really incredible person to have on our board, because not only is she a resource to help us with our curriculum, but she is putting in place teacher training for each individual student,” Cassie Boca said. “Our class sizes are small so as we get learners coming to us, maybe they have a diagnosis that a larger school environment isn’t able to serve them. Dr. Swan’s actually able to create a plan for individual students to help our guides best serve them.”

Enrolling for fall 2023

Vail Valley Unbound will have three “studios” or classrooms for K-5 students.
Vail Valley Unbound/Courtesy Photo

With a strong foundation and location, Cassie Boca said the school is just preparing to open.

Vail Valley Unbound is currently enrolling its first group of students. Already, eight of the 18 spots have been filled.

The school will have three “studios” or classrooms. One, which they are calling the Spark Studio, will be for kindergarten-level students. It will also have a Lower Studio for first, second and third-grade students as well as an upper studio for third, fourth and fifth grade. However, for its first year, Vail Valley Unbound is only enrolling K-3 students and plans to open the upper studio in 2024.

“We are a great fit for the kids that are independent learners,” Cassie Boca said, adding that this might be a student who needs a smaller environment (though not one-on-one learning), or more independence in their education.

As Unbound works toward becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, it is also working to build a scholarship fund so it can offer financial aid to students that enroll this fall.

For more information on the school or enrollment, visit VailValleyUnbound.org.  

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