Early this summer, we had the opportunity to catch up with IMS trustee Lara Vitiello and her husband Jamie Vitiello, to learn what drew their family to IMS and why they are such staunch supporters of the school.
IMS: How did your family come to find Indian Mountain?
JV: Our son, Kai, was in a school in the city during the height of Covid, and even though it had plans to reopen, it went remote, instead, and that type of learning was just not working for him. So we started looking for the most normal experience available during the pandemic. We considered several options, and IMS just seemed to suit him best.
IMS: What about Indian Mountain made it the right fit?
JV: Kai loves sports, especially hockey and baseball, and so the fact that the athletic program is fairly immersive, in that it takes up a significant portion of each school day, was appealing. As was the opportunity to work with his coaches in other settings, such as the classroom, the lunch table, electives, etc. When your coach is also your teacher, you get that experience of learning, working, and collaborating across different contexts, and what you really wind up with is a mentor.
IMS: And Kai has benefitted from those relationships thus far?
JV: Absolutely. If he’s struggling in a class, his coach knows. There have been times when his coach has told him, “You’re struggling in Spanish. You need to address it. How can I help?” And that’s very beneficial for a pre-teen or teenage boy to hear. But it’s not just the warnings that keep you from going off the guardrails; it’s the accolades, too. If you perform well in the classroom, your coaches know; if you excel in the classroom, your coaches know. I think, subconsciously, all the kids at IMS understand that everyone knows what you’re doing, and they’re all rooting for you. You are completely seen and known at all times, and you’re held accountable. And that’s what community is, right? I think that’s hard to find anywhere––especially as a day student at a boarding school.
LV: And it’s not just the faculty, but the older students, the upperclassmen: they’ve inspired him and positively influenced his development, as well, and I thought that was pretty impressive.
IMS: From your perspective, what else distinguishes Indian Mountain?
LV: Well, you drive up to Indian Mountain, and it doesn’t look like all the rest. It’s gorgeous. It’s situated in an ideal setting. It has world-class facilities. And beyond that, what you notice is the diversity; I really appreciate that aspect. I liked the motto, I liked the mantra. On our tour, I remember our interviewer telling Kai that character was an essential aspect of success at IMS. And I think that really stood out to me; we didn’t hear that from any other school. Nothing about being a nice person, a good person. Everywhere else, the emphasis was strictly academic or athletic.
JV: Beyond that, it seemed to me that the other schools were letting the parents in, and IMS was choosing a student.
IMS: What’s been the most salient impact of the IMS experience on your son?
JV: I think it’s been a sense of responsibility, or independence. Confidence. There’s an emergent capacity to hold himself accountable, as opposed to us or even a teacher having to do it. At some point, you’ve got to do it for yourself: not for your teacher, not for your parents. And I think IMS has brought him pretty far along on that journey.
Then there is the profound sense of belonging. At most schools, there’s usually a partition between the boarders and the day students, but those lines are blurred, or nonexistent, at IMS. I think he’ll always feel a part of Indian Mountain, and I don’t think he’s the only one. Just look at how many alums made it back to Lakeville for the Centennial in October, or Alumni Weekend this past spring. Even speaking to alums who live in the area; they get wistful when they talk about the place; they feel a part of it for life, which speaks volumes. I don’t know how many people still feel a part of their middle school. I think that’s fairly unique.
LV: Being on the board, I get to meet former IMS students who are now trustees, and they had the most amazing experiences here. Then, at the Centennial, they introduced me to their classmates, and they all had tremendous experiences, as well. And I’m thinking to myself, My God, this is middle school––most people hate middle school! And to each of them share how impactful and transformative their time here was. It was unbelievable. So it’s a very special place.
IMS: You both have countless options when it comes to how you spend your time and resources, where you direct your energy. Why support IMS?
LV: We’ve always supported education. There’s nothing more important. And seeing the way IMS has helped Kai grow and mature, we’re just so appreciative and grateful.
JV: Certainly, the quality of the education is paramount. But, for me, when you come to campus, it’s the culture that’s so impressive. There is such a mix of kids from so many backgrounds who have different interests and passions. They all hold their heads high, with equal confidence. At IMS, they’ve fostered and developed this understanding that just because your “thing” is a cause, and yours is a sport, and yours is an instrument, that doesn’t put us in conflict with each other, and nobody looks down on anybody else. Again, I think that’s hard to find, and a big part of what makes IMS worthy of our––or anybody’s––support.
We also recognize how hard the faculty work at IMS. The majority of them teach, coach, work residentially, have advisees––and many of them have families, kids of their own that they need to make time for. We are in awe of their energy and commitment to our kids.
LV: You see these faculty with little kids, and they’re passing them off to their spouse so they can run off to dorm duty, and you think to yourself: they were just coaching my kid for three hours! And they’re doing it all with this unflagging enthusiasm!
JV: Absolutely, you see it everyday. Beyond that, I hope everyone understands that tuition doesn’t cover the cost of running these schools. Without a large endowment, which middle schools rarely, if ever, have, they run a deficit. The Annual Fund helps bridge that gap, keeps the lights on, and supports the amazing, selfless educators who are supporting our kids. The reality is, if you have the means, writing a check isn’t a heavy lift compared to teaching everyday while trying to raise your own kids, coaching, juggling dorm duty. And we’re fortunate to have the capacity to contribute, to honor and respect the commitment these teachers make to our children.