In taking a look at the latest news and trends related to education in Santa Barbara County, it’s clear that there is an impressive breadth and depth of learning opportunities here in town. From the readers and writers workshop model to incorporating mindfulness practices, social-emotional learning, Latin studies, highly experiential learning, and meshing digital design with fine art traditions, educators are working hard to develop strategies that work for the ways individual students learn best.
This special section was developed by asking the issue’s sponsors to suggest story ideas based on people, projects, or trends that they’re excited about in their schools and organizations. From that list, we selected stories that represent a wide variety of learning experiences in Santa Barbara and produced the editorial content independently.
We hope you enjoy it and learn something new about learning!
Leslie Dinaberg is currently the editor in chief of Touring & Tasting magazine. She spent the last 11 years as managing editor of Santa Barbara Seasons, has also edited national business and college student magazines, and writes regularly for a number of publications. Leslie has also authored three nonfiction children’s books and is the coauthor of Hometown Santa Barbara: The Central Coast Book, an insider’s guide to her hometown. See lesliedinaberg.com or follow her on Instagram (@LeslieSDinaberg) and Twitter (@lesliedinaberg).
Why is There so Much Life Left in This Dead Language?
Latin may be a dead language, which is defined as “no longer the native language of any community,” but as far as scholars are concerned, it’s still vitally full of life.
The school began its sixth year in Santa Barbara this fall, as part of a network of Catholic schools that have adopted a classical academic model. Part of that curriculum is that every student reads the classic works of Greece and Rome, studies the history of the church, and takes at least four years of Latin.
“With all of its declensions, conjugations, and grammatical rules to master, Latin is a language made for a methodical mind, and in turn it trains its students to be methodical,” said Hauser. “One must slow down to make progress in Latin. Every word has to be weighed, analyzed, and understood in the context of its usage. Studying Latin instills in students a deep reverence for language, a reverence that is being lost in a culture that runs on instant communication. A strong command of language is a skill that never goes out of fashion.”
With a documented correlation between studying Latin and higher SAT scores, college grade point averages, and even math-problem-solving abilities, many other local schools emphasize the importance of studying Latin. For example, at Laguna Blanca, 7th graders complete a job interview in Latin, and at Ojai’s Thacher School, an impressive 75 percent of the students who took the National Latin Exam received awards. Latin instruction is also offered at all of the secondary schools in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
We hardly need studies to confirm this, however. “Anyone who has studied the Latin language in good faith can speak to its effects on the mind,” said Hauser. “What is more mysterious and more remarkable about studying Latin is that it ingrains in those students … a confidence in discipline and a love of language.”
There have been many studies about technology leading to feelings of isolation, insecurity, and loneliness. We asked Dawa Tarchin Phillips, resident teacher of the Santa Barbara Bodhi Path Buddhist Center, for insight on dealing with this digital conundrum.
Why do these feelings emerge, and how do we overcome them? When we do use technology, oftentimes we are isolating ourselves. Making an effort to connect with others, particularly around meaningful endeavors, is one way one can combat that. Whether it is volunteering for an organization where we care about the cause, or joining groups with similar interests — anything that gets us away from the screen and gets us around something that we find valuable is one way where we not only combat isolation, but [also build a sense of confidence through] involvement in something meaningful. … That also helps us with general insecurity, and doing it with others is something that helps us deal with loneliness.
What are some techniques we could use? Practices such as mindfulness and self-compassion, which are proven to improve what is called positive affect, the general positivity of one’s thoughts and emotions. They help with releasing hormones in the brain that actually make us feel good or make us feel better.
How can we help children prepare? The more that we can explain to children and youth about how their brain works, how their nervous system works, and how their emotions are generated, the more children are able to pay attention to that and also to restore their own balance by just understanding themselves better.
Should we fear technology? Technology is not going to go away, so we need to move out of this idea of perceiving technology just as a threat to our well-being and to be asking the question, How can we work with technology in a way that does not diminish the quality of our lives and actually helps us maintain or increase the quality of our lives?
Nonprofit Makes Social-Emotional Learning Engaging and Fun
Today’s students live in a world where fear of violence and concerns about mental health, anxiety, stress, depression, and feelings of isolation are sadly an acknowledged part of their lives. But there are also several bright spots in this picture.
For one thing, educators, parents, students, and employers increasingly recognize the value of social-emotional learning (SEL) as a way to combat these challenges. Here in town, the nonprofit AHA!’s Peace Builders program works in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria schools “to help build a learning and doing community for young people who want to use their SEL skills to play a leadership role in improving the climate of their school campuses,” explains Melissa Lowenstein, AHA! programs director and facilitator.
Ryan Sportel, the dean of student engagement at Goleta Valley Junior High, is a fan. “What is unique about AHA! that nobody else has is that they have figured out how to present and teach and practice the skills associated with social and emotional learning in a way that’s really incredibly engaging and fun and also makes sense as a human being,” he said. “It’s very relatable, and it’s very natural and organic.”
The curriculum trains participants to be great listeners, clear and courageous communicators, and allies who can confidently support others who are being bullied or who are otherwise struggling, explained Lowenstein.
“We believe that students gain self-confidence on how to navigate through different points of views and being more accepting to all of the different people we are surrounded with in our community,” said Nathan Mendoza, dean of students at Santa Barbara High.
Santa Barbara High teacher Mario Rodriguez praises the program’s diversity. “Some students are recognized strong leaders, active in the direction of the peace circles and whole group conversations,” he said. “Other students are timid yet finding positive role models to fortify their own role within the organization. Some students are very sure of their identities, confident in knowing who they are as adolescents within our school and community. Other students are in the process of finding themselves, feeling safe because they will not be judged in this setting but rather supported in their personal process. To be a part of AHA! is to be heard, celebrated, and uplifted.”
Explained Sportel, “It’s at least as valuable as any other course of study that we provide to our children.”
Free Tuition Program Covers School of Culinary Arts and Hotel Management
Aspiring chefs whirl around the industrial-size kitchen classroom in clean white threads, cooking up a mouth-watering array of Northern African and Moroccan dishes like Mtuzi Wa Samaki (fish in coconut curry), homemade merguez sausage, and Ghanaian chicken-and-peanut stew.
This intricate dance of chopping, stirring, sautéing, and learning is conducted by Chef Charlie Fredericks, who is clearly delighted to be orchestrating the SBCC class called “Modern Food: Style, Design, Theory, and Production.” Students create dishes from a different country every week — and once the global-themed feast is complete, they all share a meal together.
“It’s so much fun,” said Fredericks, a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, who has worked at restaurants in San Francisco, the Caribbean, Europe, and Napa before returning home to open bouchon in Santa Barbara in 1998. “This is definitely my favorite time,” he said. “It’s pretty much a Disneyland class.”
Indeed, it’s a small world after all, and the Culinary Arts students seem to be enjoying the ride. “I really enjoy learning about the different countries and their different ways of cooking and different spices and how they have a connection to their culture,” said Claudia Garcia, a returning student who also has a son and a daughter enrolled at SBCC.
The Chinese cooking lesson had a special resonance for Ava Engle, who grew up in Carpinteria and is attending the culinary school as part of the SBCC Promise Program, which provides the region’s high school graduates with the opportunity to attend for two years, free of charge. “I was actually adopted in China,” explained Engle, “and we made the Chinese food on my adoption day, just coincidentally, so that was great. I was kind of unfamiliar with the dishes we made, so it was fun to learn about them.”
Alejandro Hernandez, a 2019 graduate of the SBCC School of Extended Learning Bilingual GED Program, is another one of 19 students enrolled in the Promise who’s attending the School of Culinary Arts and Hotel Management Program this semester. Hernandez has supported himself and his family by working full-time at a Vietnamese restaurant for many years. He says the Promise — which covers enrollment costs and all required fees, books, and supplies for two years — is a great opportunity for him to bring a global perspective to combine with his family culinary roots from Guerrero, Mexico. “Hopefully, I’ll open my own restaurant in the future,” Hernandez said.
“I’d love to work in a hotel and travel internationally,” said Miriam Martinez, another aspiring chef. “The Modern Foods is definitely my favorite class. I love the opportunity to taste — and cook — food from every country.”
Adams Elementary School’s Literacy Coach Is New Breed of Educator
Mallory Price is part of a new breed of educators out there, one that’s not anchored to a classroom or a particular grade’s curriculum but rather to skilled listening, problem solving, and relationship building.
“My primary role is to support teachers,” said Price, who is in her third year as the literacy coach at Adams Elementary School. With some support from Santa Barbara Unified School District, she received her doctorate from Fielding Graduate University, which inspired her “to see beyond the walls of my own classroom, ultimately leading to the realization that I can have a greater impact if I step out of the classroom and expand my reach in a new role.”
Price worked closely with former Adams principal Amy Alzina to become the district’s first literacy coach, and she was then then supported by the new principal, Kelly Fresch, who came from a school that had literacy coaches. “The stars were aligned for me,” said Price, “and she was the perfect principal for them to hire at that time!”
Price works with teachers in cycles and allows them to determine which areas they want their students to focus on. “If the teachers don’t trust you, it’s going to be hard to have them open the door and trust you,” she explained.
Price grew up in Summerland, attending Summerland School, Crane School, and Santa Barbara High, and is the daughter of retired Cold Spring superintendent/ principal Tricia Price, also a Fielding grad. Education may be in her blood — her grandfather Jim Thorsell was a teacher at Washington School for about 30 years — but she had zero interest in teaching when she was growing up.
But after graduating from the University of Washington, Price started working as an instructional aide at Summerland School. “I just needed a job and wasn’t going to stay long, but it’s the classic story — I fell in love with teaching,” laughed Price, who then got her teaching credential and master’s from Antioch University in Santa Barbara.
Eight years ago, she became a kindergarten teacher at Adams. It wasn’t the grade she wanted, “but I just kept surprising myself. I ended up falling in love with kindergarten too, and I did that for five years at Adams.”
During that time, she also traveled to New York every summer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. “It’s the best professional learning experience I’ve ever had; it’s transformational,” said Price. “It’s based on some research from some of the smartest literacy experts from around the world, and it really treats teachers like professionals. You feel like you’re with the best people who are really passionate about what they’re doing.”
Now she’s using that model here in Santa Barbara. “Kids learn and grow and fall in love with reading when they can choose their own books. I never really loved reading until I got to choose my own book and I chose to read Harry Potter for the first time,” said Price, who added that one of her favorite activities has been helping teachers set up their classroom libraries. “The district has been amazing and has purchased libraries for every single classroom.”
Thanks to Price’s success, the district now has literacy coaches at each elementary school: Barbara Conway (Washington/Franklin), Courtney-Firth Williams (Cleveland/Roosevelt), Sandy Robertson (SBCA), Amy Gates (McKinley/Monroe), and Lindsay Alker (Harding).
“I love it,” said Price of transitioning from traditional teacher to coach. “I don’t think I could ask for it to go any better with my colleagues. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but they’re so supportive, and I feel like all of them welcomed me and want me there.”
Melanie Jacobs of Montessori Center School Explains Why Success Comes to Alumni
As head of the Montessori Center School, Melanie Jacobs believes that the Montessori method — which nurtures students’ natural curiosity and gets them interested, engaged, and invested in their own education — is ideally suited to empower children to succeed in the evolving economy. She explains why for us below.
How does the Montessori method’s creative learning strategy apply to the way business is conducted today? This model of collaboration, creativity, independence, and self-motivation lends itself well to the way business is conducted in today’s world. In many work environments, employees are asked to “think out of the box,” have strong executive functioning skills, and work effectively in a collaborative, ever-changing environment. Working in a Montessori classroom encourages strong time-management skills, focus and concentration, self-regulation, organization, confidence, the sharing of ideas, and problem solving, which are all necessary skills to have in a modern workplace.
How does science, technology, engineering, art, and math, also known as STEAM, relate to the Montessori method? While STEM and STEAM are the buzzwords used today to emphasize the importance of science, technology, engineering, art, and math, these concepts have been integral parts of the Montessori curriculum for decades. The engineering aspect is supported beautifully through work with our sensorial materials, which includes geometry as well as representations of the decimal system that promote exploration, beginning in our youngest classrooms. Some of these same materials are utilized in more advanced ways in our older environments, creating strong understanding and connectivity.
I feel proud to be part of such an innovative method of teaching.
I’ve heard that many prominent people were educated in the Montessori method. Can you name a few of them? Besides the cofounders of Google (Sergey Brin and Larry Page) and Amazon (Jeff Bezos), I would also add Katharine Graham (Pulitzer Prize–winning author and former owner and editor of the Washington Post), T. Berry Brazelton (pediatrician and author), Julia Child (author and chef whom I had the pleasure of meeting when she visited our school), Joshua Bell (Grammy Award–winning violinist), and many more. They have had significant and positive impacts on our world, effectively sharing their knowledge and gifts for the greater good.
Ditching Cell Phones and Finding Community at Los Olivos Boarding School
With research compounding the negative effects of cell phones, schools are struggling to come up with policies, and some are beginning to institute smartphone bans. Meanwhile, at Midland School, an independent boarding high school in Los Olivos, the founding values make it a bit simpler for students to be both unplugged and connected.
“Mobile technology is ubiquitous, and most of us, schools especially, never stopped to think through the potential consequences,” explained Head of School Christopher Barnes. “We do on an ongoing basis. This goes back to our founding values of simplicity and considering what we ‘need’ and what we ‘want’ in every decision. Introducing new technology to our campus is always viewed through this lens and gives us the opportunity to truly weigh the benefits and costs on our community and program.”
Students have Wi-Fi-accessible Chromebooks, but cell phones are not allowed, a policy that Hana Harvey, a senior and head prefect, finds just fine. “I do not miss having a cell phone at all,” she said. “I find that I am far less distracted without one, and I have learned so much about human interaction that I would not have been able to with a phone.”
For example, if she’s upset with someone, she can’t just shoot a quick text to ask what’s wrong. Instead, she must talk to them directly. “Being here forces me to slow down and confront people face to face,” said Harvey. “When I am home for breaks or summer vacation, I am startled by how quickly I fall into the routine of relying on my phone for entertainment. When I am here, I feel like I have to work my brain to entertain myself instead of immediately pulling out my phone in moments of boredom.”
Barnes said that Midland students frequently use technology, but that it comes with limits and expectations. “Can a student watch a movie in their free time? Absolutely,” he explained. “However, we do it as a group activity together, not alone hiding away behind a screen, furthering our commitment to face-to-face interactions and authentic community.”
The students are sometimes most adamant about the cell phone policies. “Our students support and help enforce our community expectations, including the time in my first year when I snuck a peek at my phone on election night in the dining hall and a student gently reminded me to take it outside,” said Barnes. “They very quickly realize what a positive impact it has on their social and academic lives.”
Harvey is very clear on what less cell phone use means for her. “I find that I am less distracted, more productive, and I can focus for longer periods of time,” she said. “Not having a phone means that I have a lot of extra time to focus on what matters to me.”
Christian College Prep Prepares Students for Fine Art and Digital Careers
As digital design becomes a more and more prevalent part of our society, Providence School is developing programs to help students interact with that burgeoning industry. This fall, the Christian college preparatory school’s faculty members James Daly and Maxwell Beers launched Providence Studio, which is equipping students to be competent and ethical content creators.
The response so far has been overwhelming, reported Daly and Beers. “Classes are full, and students are enthusiastic!” they wrote. “The Studio opens doors of opportunity and growth for students interested in a wide variety of fields, from photojournalism to filmmaking and graphic design.”
The Providence Studio offer three academic tracks: Fine Arts, Digital Media, and a Fine Arts/Digital Media hybrid. The “Fine Arts” track is built upon the classical and academic models of art education. “I didn’t even realize the potential I had, or that I was that good at drawing, until Mr. Daly helped bring it out,” said sophomore Liza Coffin. “I am so excited to see how much more I will grow in my artistic expression with him teaching me through my time in the studio.”
The “Digital Media” track includes working with Photoshop and learning to ethically create and edit images in a world where image manipulation is prolific. “We’ve been talking about how to use our technology responsibly and carefully and still effectively,” said senior Cameron Bleeker.
It also includes an introduction to the skills and techniques of contemporary photojournalism. “I get to write articles as well as do the artistic elements, so it’s really combining a bunch of different classes that I enjoy,” said senior Alena Zeni.
There’s also an introduction to the film and video production process. “I want to be a film major, so I feel like I can use what I’m learning here in the studio to direct my choices and my career,” said senior Eric Smith.
Some of the “Hybrid” projects include: digital painting alongside classical painting; taking the techniques of drawing with pencil and applying them in the Adobe Illustrator application on a Wacom digital tablet; and starting with an 18th-century etching, students draw in pencil, then take creative liberties to paint, scan, trace in Illustrator, and make a vector-based design that can then be 3D printed.
“Ultimately, the goal for our students is to build a broad, foundational skill set that they can take into any vocation and across all fields,” explained the teachers. “The ability to translate abstract concepts to the canvas or screen is no easy task; however, it is essential, even expected, in both expressions of media. As a result, each track emphasizes skill-based methods tailored to equip students to move into whichever field students choose.”
What excites them the most about the Providence Studio is that “the students who go through the program will become influencers, storytellers, and content creators with a strong desire for integrity and truth to guide the work they create.”