Vail Valley Decades: Vail Mountain School
VAIL About to enter its 46th year, Vail Mountain School has for decades been an independent voice in the education of many locals. School staffers, including headmaster Peter Abuisi and assistant headmaster Bob Bandoni, recently answered some questions about the schools history and its students. Vail Mountain School parents have held countless fund-raisers over the years. Whats the most unusual thing the school has done to raise money?Because were an independent school, were independently funded, and therefore, we look to our families, friends, and grants to support our efforts. Events like the VMS Home Tour (in its 37th year), the Holiday Gala & Auction (in its 33rd year), the VMS Garage Sale (in its 16th year), and the recent VMS Golf Tournament raise significant funds for our financial aid program and day-to-day school operations. In addition, students raise funds for community and global causes as wellVMS students have held fundraisers, food drives, toy drives, and blanket and clothing drives in response to local and global crises. Students have helped people right in Vail and in places like New Orleans, Nepal, and India. Proceeds from the annual holiday plant sale help fund SummerQuest, a summer program at the school for local middle school students in need of academic remediation. Skiing has always played a big role in VMS student life. What role does it play now?Skiing is a central element in the culture of our school. Everyone participates in Ski Fridays and All School Ski Day. The school provides a tutorial program for ski racers, our alpine and Nordic teams are very accomplished, Nordic skiing has filtered into the lower school with a new program for budding athletes, and middle and upper school students also have the opportunity to snowboard and telemark. In our way, it reflects our continued respect for, investment in, and enjoyment of the central activity that brings so many people to Vail, said assistant headmaster Bob Bandoni. For us, its a way to identify with the natural surroundings and the central industry of the town. Its almost inextricable from our reason for being where we are. Peter Abuisi has been headmaster of Vail Mountain School for 30 years. What makes him such a good fit for the school?The first thing that comes to mind when asked why Peter is such a good fit for the school is that he is the one who really shaped the school, Bandoni said. Colorado carries with it a frontier image, and in many ways, Peter had the courage to pioneer education in this valley. He had the resolve and the courage to put together a model that was so different from the way the country was going at the time the country was dividing schools by age, and he had the wisdom to know that educating all of these developmental ages under one roof was tapping into a resource (both formally and vicariously) that was missing in so many other models. Peter is the culmination of all of this wisdom. He values and appreciates the core values that allowed the school to start hard work, cooperation, community and he is the bearer of that wisdom today. When schools tend to be whimsical in their approach, Peter has stayed grounded in certain principles, and they have passed the test of time. Vail Mountain School has always had the feel of a big family. That was easy when there were but a few dozen students. Now, with a few hundred kids, how hard is it to keep that sense of a tight-knit community?As an independent school, VMS programs are driven by the schools purpose statement or mission, and supported by a close partnership with parents, which is a unique aspect of the way we work with students, Abuisi said. With the mission as the guide, the challenge in carrying forward from the smaller school building to the new, much larger one was making a place for the traditions that foster the feeling of inclusiveness. In spite of greater numbers, more space, and the increase of program options, we carried on through the transition as though little else had changed. There have been challenges to adapting, but we believe so strongly in the value of each other that old routines blend with new possibilities and we go forth from that. Bandoni said, At VMS, there is a set of values that people believe in and promote. They are reinforced in the traditions of the school Thanksgiving Breakfast, Winter Solstice, Commencement but they are also practiced every day. When people care about each other, they are interested in what each other is doing when someone needs another, family is there. Everyone is asked to be involved with the entire life of the school. The younger students know the older students. There is an investment in the growth of children. Thats what it means to be family. This sense of family extends to our graduates. Around the country, graduates know that the school is here, caring about them, supporting them. VMS is a private (independent) school, but theres a strong ethic to contribute to the broader community? Which of those projects are you most proud of?Our community service program is a long-standing tradition at the school. Kate Blakslee, our community service program coordinator, oversees programs like Martin Luther King Jr. Volunteerism Day (the whole school participates in a day on to honor the work of Dr. King), Adopt-a-Family, and the Octogenarian Tea (for seniors in the valley), for instance. But hardly a week goes by when a number of VMS students are not giving their time to a local or global non-profit organization from a blanket drive for a local animal shelter to raising funds for a student to attend school in Nepal, our students sense of global citizenship is helping the world become a better place.We can be proud that without making it mandatory, typically 100 percent of our students are involved in some way with learning about our community through service work. Our new Ethically Engaged Youth program is an extension of that education. Our students efforts continue even after graduation. Our alumni have taken community ownership and investment in Colorado and beyond, and they credit their philanthropic efforts to the lessons they learned at school. With a recently-completed campus now fully used, what are some of the future goals for the school?Possibilities for the future seem endless. We are busy refining what we teach and how we teach it. That includes curriculum writing, experimenting with methodologies, and developing programs that extend far beyond our current scope. The world calls on all of us to react to the plight of others and to fix our ailing planet. Vail Mountain School offers an excellent preparation for college, but that is a small part of what our graduates will need to bring about positive change in the world they will inherit. The schools next great challenges will be to educate students for effective leadership, as borders diminish and requests to cross them for noble purposes increase.