Nestled in the breathtaking landscapes of the Wood River Valley, Sun Valley Community School (SVCS) is not just an educational institution; it’s a living testament to innovation and adventure. Established in 1973 by a group of visionary families and the remarkable Sam Hazard, the school’s journey began in the humble surroundings of a church basement. The following year, it found its temporary home at the iconic Trail Creek Cabin at Sun Valley Resort.
From the very first days of school, the spirit of togetherness and the love for the great outdoors took root. It became a tradition to kick off each school year with a school-wide campout, a tradition that has stood the test of time and is still going strong after five decades. An enduring hallmark of SVCS is the three-day wilderness adventure undertaken by students in grades 6-12 in the beautiful landscapes of Idaho. And here’s the cherry on top – everyone, even the head of the school, goes by their first name, fostering a sense of community and approachability.
Ryan Waterfield, the Director of Communications and Marketing at Sun Valley Community School, affirms, “Community has always been at the heart of the Sun Valley Community School experience, as it offers a robust academic program complemented by the world-class outdoor education program.” In 2011, the school evolved further by introducing a boutique boarding program and launching the Sun Valley Ski Academy, attracting student-athletes from around the world who aspire to combine a rigorous high school experience with top-tier snow sports competition. But that’s not all. The school also offers a Creative Arts Academy and an Outdoor Leadership Academy, providing students with opportunities to dive deeper into their passions.
What sets this school apart is its profound connection to the stunning mountain environment that surrounds it. “Our mountain setting is critical to the way we approach education,” says Ryan. Every grade level embarks on multiple outdoor adventures throughout the academic year, fostering an intimate connection with the natural world. These experiences extend beyond their backyard, enriching students’ lives and education.
The SVCS Experience: Where Learning Knows No Bounds
At SVCS, education extends far beyond the confines of traditional classrooms, embodying the belief that “not all classrooms have walls.” According to Ryan, it’s the seamless blend of academics and outdoor programs that truly sets this institution apart. But it’s not just about curriculum – it’s about relationships.
Here, the use of first names for both staff and students goes beyond a tradition; it’s a philosophy that underlines how they connect with one another. As Ryan elaborates, this approach is fundamental to the SVCS experience, creating a sense of familiarity that’s key to the learning environment. From the tiniest tots at two years old to the seniors in high school, every student is known, valued, and appreciated for their unique gifts.
The SVCS experience is nothing short of expansive. It offers students myriad arenas to shine, find success, and cultivate earned confidence. The core values include grit, joy, meaningful connections, and the freedom to explore and pursue passions.
Academics here are not in isolation; they are intertwined with a renowned outdoor education program that was part of the school’s DNA from the beginning. Today, SVCS is defined by five pillars – Academics, Outdoors, Arts, Athletics, and Service. These pillars, spanning from the youngest Cutthroats at two years old to high school seniors, nurture curiosity about the world, a sense of place, and community connections.
In the Upper School, three academies empower students to delve deeper into their passions. The Sun Valley Ski Academy caters to competitive snow sports athletes, offering them the opportunity to pursue ski racing at the highest levels while still enjoying a comprehensive high school experience. This encompasses rigorous academics, other athletic pursuits, engagement in the arts, community service, and more.
The Outdoor Leadership Academy, on the other hand, equips students with ample opportunities to explore their passion for outdoor leadership. They can specialize in various domains, from Snow and Rock to Water and Mountain pursuits. Beyond outdoor skills, these experiences instill invaluable qualities such as self-reliance, risk assessment, grit, and self-confidence. For those with a passion for the arts, the Creative Arts Academy allows students to focus on their artistic inclinations, be it in the realm of drama, visual arts, or music.
The Campuses: Where Nature Meets Education
Nestled in a picturesque location, Sun Valley Community School’s Trail Creek Campus is more than just a school; it’s an immersive experience where nature and education coexist. As Ryan puts it, “Not all classrooms have walls,” and this philosophy infuses the way faculty and students interact both on and off the campus. Surrounded by mountains and with a river meandering through, the natural setting serves as a living science lab and an ever-inspiring art studio.
The close proximity to these majestic mountains enables SVCS to deeply involve its students in the natural world. Here, there’s a boundless realm of knowledge to explore and a wellspring of inspiration to uncover.
Rufus M. Brown Hall, the residential campus, stands at the heart of this vibrant community. It’s not only home to boarding students but also hosts residential advisors and the Julia Argyros High-Performance Training Center. This state-of-the-art gym is officially recognized by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association as a high-performance training facility. It’s a vital asset for Ski Academy students, and athletes from various sports are encouraged to make the most of it, benefiting from the expertise of our High-Performance coach on staff.
The Dumke Family Sagewillow Campus, on the other hand, is a hub for sports enthusiasts. It boasts three soccer fields that have witnessed the school’s high school team clinching numerous state championships, including the girls’ championship in 2022. These fields are not just a place to play but a ground where a passion for soccer thrives. Additionally, snow sports athletes find their training haven in the Air Barn, an anti-gravity facility equipped with trampolines, foam pits, and more. Sagewillow also offers roller-ski trails and a high-performance training mill for Nordic athletes.
In this vibrant setting, the Outdoor Program Outfitting Center plays a pivotal role. It ensures that all students have access to the gear they need for various outdoor pursuits and adventures, making these experiences accessible to the entire SVCS community.
Preparing Students for Success: The College-Prep Journey
Sun Valley Community School’s commitment to students doesn’t end when they graduate; it’s just the beginning of a well-guided journey toward their chosen path. “Our college-prep curriculum is more than just a roadmap; it’s a dedicated effort to help students discover the perfect fit for their higher education, one where they can truly flourish,” shares Ryan.
The ultimate goal is clear: to equip students with the tools to find their ideal college, university, or path to success. Ryan elaborates, “Some may set their sights on Ivy League institutions, while others aim for the U.S. Ski Team. And then there are those who seek a perfect blend of adventure, academic challenge, and achievement. Year after year, we hear the resounding feedback from our students: they feel exceptionally well-prepared for the journey they’ve chosen.”
What sets these students apart is their readiness to embrace challenges, uncertainties, and the unfamiliar. They’ve learned to navigate the complexities of life and are unafraid to confront risks. They have a deep understanding of themselves and a well-developed sense of community, fueled by a relentless drive to be impactful contributors to their communities.
One hallmark of an SVCS education is the ability to advocate for oneself. These students are not hesitant to connect with their teachers and mentors. They’ve mastered the art of inquiry before judgment, yet they also trust their instincts when needed. This holistic development is cultivated not only in the academic program but also within the academy programs, on the soccer field, in the weight room, on the stage, and in the studio.
Fostering Strong Bonds
At the heart of Sun Valley Community School’s ethos lies a profound sense of community, where relationships take center stage. Here, the value of these bonds is celebrated through various traditions and activities that bring students, faculty, and families together.
“We have Color Groups, where students from different grades come together multiple times a year to plan school-wide events. This unique mix of students fosters connections that transcend age barriers,” shares Ryan. Even the youngest members of the SVCS community, the 5th graders create lasting memories through their interactions with K-pals (kindergarten pals) who engage in annual activities. “These early connections are so impactful that my kids still remember their K-pals,” adds Ryan.
The essence of this preparation is cultivated during events like Community Table, where service builds bonds within the community while supporting underserved communities in the Valley. What the school does is not just intentional; it’s a natural part of the SVCS experience, shaping students into resilient, inquisitive, and community-driven individuals.
Commitment to Service
SVCS remains dedicated to the principle of being a private school with a public purpose. This commitment shines through the numerous hours of community service contributed by students, faculty, staff, and families each year. Programs like “The Community Table” have emerged from this ethos, initially evolving from the school’s participation in the Souper Supper, a soup kitchen that closed due to COVID-19.
“The Community Table” is a testament to building bridges between diverse communities in their small valley. Students and faculty from SVCS, working in collaboration with kids from the public school, have created a series of community meals and events that serve underserved communities in the region. This act of service not only addresses immediate needs but also nurtures a deeper sense of connection and unity among diverse groups.
The community and service initiatives at SVCS are not just gestures; they are the embodiment of the school’s core values and a testament to the power of building connections and making a positive impact.
Bonds Built Through Traditions
The school’s commitment to the community is further exemplified through the Engl Cup, a cherished tradition that has evolved over the years. What once began as ski races have transformed into ski-focused scavenger hunts filled with costumes and boundless fun for all. One of the school’s most beloved traditions, Powder Day, encapsulates the essence of community.
Traditionally, a “Powder Day” is called when the Head of School surprises the school community with an academic day “off” – usually when a significant amount of snow (powder) has fallen. For many years, teachers and students met on Baldy to ski; in recent years, Powder Day has adapted to cater to diverse interests; now, students can choose to ski, ice skate, snowshoe, or engage in various other activities, all while relishing the camaraderie with classmates and faculty.
Investing in the Future
In a ski resort community as picturesque as the Wood River Valley, Sun Valley Community School understands that addressing real-life challenges is integral to its mission. Among these challenges, one stands out prominently – attainable and affordable housing. The solution is not just practical; it’s a visionary step toward ensuring the school’s continued excellence.
The ongoing project to build faculty and staff housing at the Sagewillow campus is more than just construction; it’s a commitment to the heart and soul of SVCS. “We want to ensure that we can attract, hire, and retain excellent faculty into the future. The faculty are key to delivering on our mission for our students,” emphasizes Ryan.
As the story of Sun Valley Community School unfolds, it’s a tale of dedication, innovation, and an unyielding commitment to community, education, and progress. The threads of tradition, community, and service are interwoven with a vision for a future where students not only excel academically but also thrive as citizens of the world.
For More Info: https://www.communityschool.org/
About Ryan Waterfield, Director of Communications and Marketing at Sun Valley Community School
Ryan Waterfield, Director of Communications and Marketing, taught at SVCS from 1996 to 2011 as an Upper School English teacher and varsity basketball coach. She was raised in Kentucky and traded in linen and sundresses for polypro and baselayers when she moved to Idaho to teach and spend time with students in the wilderness. She is married to an SVCS graduate and has two SVCS students, so you might say she believes in the school and its mission.