March 2022
Imagination and Self-Sufficiency
How The Orme School endured 2020-2022

The Orme School has survived the pandemic better than most educational institutions in the region. Why? Because all students, teachers and staff live on the historic 300-acre campus, set on 2,600 acres of ranchland located between Mayer and Interstate 17.

When Covid-19 closed schools in the spring of 2020, Orme made the decision to do the same and move to online instruction for its students, grades 8-12. It also canceled its popular summer camps.

“Last year the world as we knew it changed within a few months,” Ross Sanner, executive vice president and COO, said in 2021. “Being able to adapt to a situation in real time was a great teaching moment for all of us.”

Since the fall semester 2021, however, Orme has opened to in-person instruction, for which everyone is grateful, said Orme Director of Admissions Jessica Calmes. Day students all moved into the boarding program, she added, and everyone on campus is fully vaccinated.

This year marks the 93rd year of operation for the school, founded in 1929. The private college-prep boarding and day school attracts students from all over the world. It offers 13 challenging AP courses, horsemanship, ten athletic sports — archery was added this year — music, art, chess, and a recently developed program involving sustainability studies. A new heater was added over the past summer to the outdoor pool, making competitive swimming enjoyable year round.

Average class size is ten students, with a student-to-teacher ratio of 3:1. Consistently all Orme graduates are accepted into colleges and universities.

The 105 students enrolled this year include those from local communities — Spring Valley, Cottonwood and Crown King — and international students from Lithuania, Poland, Austria, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Island of Dominica, and Kazakhstan. Students were able to visit home and return this winter break, but during the 2020-21 term the students remained on campus for the entire school year.

In keeping with safety protocols, off-campus excursions involve more outdoor activities like hiking, camping and horseback trips rather than movies or shopping. Students participated in the first Orme Games, which included Survivor Week, a Tough Mudder obstacle course, and learning how to create outdoor shelters. The annual Caravan adventure experience also takes place in outdoor spaces — a week-long camping trip in Zion National Park, for example.

Another important experience all Orme students enjoy is the five-day Fine Arts Festival at the end of February. Students spend an entire week immersed in art workshops taught by artists and musicians from around the US, some celebrating many years teaching their craft at Orme. For instance, Ramson Lomatewama has taught glassblowing, one of the students' favorite classes, for 28 of the past 29 years (Covid-19 disrupted one year). His wife, Caryl Lomatewama, teaches how to design and create works of stained glass. Other workshops include video production, oil and watercolor painting, ceramics/sculpture, quilting, printmaking, photography, traditional dance, and jewelry-making.

In part The Orme School was founded on its practice of self-sufficiency, and nothing shows this better than the results of a $1.5-million grant it won in 2014.

The Burpee Foundation grant was used over three years to grow the school’s “To Table” programs — Garden, Farm, Orchard, and Ranch — providing locally grown food for the dining facility. The 0.75-acre organic garden not only delivers healthy seasonal produce, but gives students opportunities to study biology, horticulture and ecology as well. A two-acre organic orchard includes 200 apple, apricot, fig, nectarine, peach and plum trees, and a grape arbor.

Calmes said Chef John Wells, the school’s director of food services who once cooked for the Obama family, “has spoiled us.” Wells prepared a big menu this past month to celebrate the lunar new year.

All students have daily chores that help maintain the school’s gardens, grounds and kitchen, exactly what the founders had in mind when establishing the guiding principles of excellence, tradition and character.

“The uniqueness of The Orme School and its mission and traditions of educating students for college and life in a loving family community, in many ways, mirrors my own upbringing — loving family, appreciation for the outdoors, respect, discipline, and giving back,” said school President Kristin Durow. “We are happy to keep it going,” adds Calmes.

For more information visit and take a virtual tour of the campus, or call Jessica Calmes, 928-632-1564. The Orme School is about an hour’s drive from Prescott via Highway 169 to I-17, Exit 268 on Orme Road.

Sue Tone is a retired local journalist.

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