In 1970, during a large, national teachers’ strike, a few college grads saw a need for a new kind of education in Flint. They saw the need for an alternative to the private and public schools in the area, so they established The Valley School as Flint’s only independent, secular K-12 school. Since its beginning, Valley has welcomed students of all nationalities, races, religious and economic backgrounds. They strive to provide a safe place for students to learn and prepare for the next step. They are strictly a college preparatory school and it is something they do well. “Our kids attend colleges all over the United States and at home, from Mott to the University of Michigan to the Ivy League,” says Nancy Brandt, Counselor. “We are so proud of all of them.”
The school began in a small house, grew quickly and moved to St. Matthews Church in Downtown Flint. Since then, Valley moved seven times for various reasons before landing at their current location at the Unity Christian Church on Linden Rd. Throughout all the tribulation, the students, parents and staff stay extremely dedicated. It is this dedication that has allowed Valley to remain open for five decades.
“We’re still here!” exclaims Shawn Smith, a teacher at The Valley School since 1989. “I know a lot of people think we closed. We are still here for the kids.” Smith teaches math and science and says he wouldn’t trade his job for anything. “Years ago, I left The Valley School for a public one. I immediately came back,” he says. “I love how cooperative we are, I love the kids. We have a lot of freedom to do what is best for our students. We don’t do this for the money.”
Brandt has worked with Valley since 1984. She began as a teacher and is retired, but continues to counsel the kids. “I started out working in the Flint Public School system and became disenchanted with it. I was employed in the gifted program and when I moved to Valley, I was finally able to do all of the stuff I learned without being held back,” she says. “The small class size really made a difference. I think that the individual attention and our ability to challenge the students is what really has kept The Valley School afloat. It has a high reputation for success.”
Valley emphasizes leadership, accountability and personal growth. They do this through art, athletics, community service and mentoring. “Everybody takes art,” explains Brandt. “It’s required all the way up. While other schools are cutting art programs, we embrace it. We want our kids to be exposed to things like sculpture and photography.” Smith adds, “And everybody has to play a high school sport. It’s part of the graduation requirement. It’s not about winning; it’s about participating. We want our kids to learn how to work with others to achieve a goal and learn a healthy habit.”
Middle-schoolers and high-schoolers are routinely involved in community service throughout Flint. They work on food drives, distribute water, help the homeless and more. Older students are also asked to work with younger students and to be excellent role models. “For example, instead of Thanksgiving we have what we call “The Feast” because our student body is so diverse,” explains Smith. “The older kids will meet with the younger kids and help them pick out food and sit with them. We try to create a lot of interaction between ages.”
“Our kids attend colleges all over the United States and at home, from Mott to the University of Michigan to the Ivy League.”
Nancy Brandt, Counselor
Another result of Valley’s secular nature, the school has celebrated a winter tradition called Wazenflune since its beginning. Wazenflune takes the place of typical Christmas celebrations. “The tradition was started with the original group. It’s a week-long, non-religious celebration,” informs Smith. “During the week, students share positive messages with each other and then, on the day before holiday break, the senior class presents a play. The story is about how the Wizard of Wazenflune and Captain Valley overcome the evil witch, Mephista. It’s a fun tradition and we have alumni who come back each year to partake in it. At the end, all the alumni and seniors sing ‘12 Days of Wazenflune.’ It shows how dedicated everyone at Valley is to each other, even after graduation. It’s great.”
The Valley School remained strong through its history with no sign of stopping until the recession of 2008. “We dropped from 188 students to 40,” says Smith. “We’ve struggled to regain our numbers ever since. A lot of sacrifices have been made. Our director, Kaye Panchula, has been the driving force for keeping the doors open. We have great kids and we really want to continue to teach them.”
No matter how many students are enrolled, Valley will continue to provide quality learning and acceptance. The staff works hard to be there for the students and are working on a plan to continue. “We understand that we serve a role,” says Smith. “We are a safe place of learning for students who might feel threatened in a bigger school.” Brandt adds, “We love to teach and love our students. That’s really why The Valley School is still here after 50 years.”
If you are interested in what this school has to offer, visit The Valley School website, or call 810.767.4004.
Photography By Kayce McClure and Photos Provided by The Valley School