The Bridge to Somewhere

Admiring Santa Barbara Public Library’s Adult Literacy Programs

The Bridge to Somewhere (SB Public Library's Adult Literacy Programs) was originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on March 18, 2021.

The Bridge to Somewhere (SB Public Library’s Adult Literacy Programs) was originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on March 18, 2021.

Pivoting, but still paving the way to knowledge, despite budget cuts and so many services shut down during the pandemic, the Santa Barbara Public Library’s Adult Education Programs have found creative ways to provide service during the past year. I recently joined the City Library Advisory Board and was impressed with all of the free programs they still offer, despite their physical doors being closed to the public.

Headed by Devon Cahill, an adult education librarian and former volunteer tutor, the Adult Literacy Program trains volunteers to work one-to-one with learners to help them achieve language literacy and other adult education goals. Prior to the pandemic, the tutor-learner pairs would meet up at the library to work on their language skills together. Since last spring, they’ve switched to 100 percent remote and have about 50 tutor-learner pairs
working together.

Though it’s challenging, Cahill said that pandemic learning has been a success. Grants provided funding for Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots for those that needed them. “Our success rate normally is over 90 percent with learners reaching the literacy goals that they have set,” he said. “During the pandemic, we’re working with fewer learners and tutors, but our success rate has gone almost up to 100 percent—it was at 98 percent last quarter.”

Rachel Altman, a retired grant writer, has been a tutor for the past four years, working the entire time with Cecilia, a native Spanish speaker. Part of Cecilia’s motivation is that she works as a housecleaner and her employers want to be able to leave her written instructions. In addition, she is in her fifties and would like to be able to find less physically demanding work eventually, explained Altman, who was partially motivated to volunteer because her own parents were immigrants who learned English as a second language.

The two women meet for about an hour twice a week (one hour a week is the minimum requirement). They are currently meeting by phone, which is a bit more challenging than in person or on Zoom, but Cecilia is not computer savvy. Rather than read side-by-side, Altman mails materials to Cecilia from the variety of resources the library offers. “She’s very interested in history and current events,” Altman said.

While being apart isn’t ideal, there are some upsides. “I think the biggest advantage to the phone is we talk more … and she needs to practice more conversational English,” said Altman. “It seems like the phone allows for that a little more, rather than just going right to the book.”

Improving her conversational English was also one of the reasons Sebnem Vural joined the program about a year ago. “I have always struggled with my English pronunciation in the past, so I decided that it would be a good idea to obtain an environment where I could hear the language more often,” said the native Turkish speaker. “I’ve had tons of people supporting me and encouraging me all throughout my journey. I can’t explain how helpful
this program was.”

The tutors go through eight hours of initial training, with an emphasis on a learner-centered peer tutor approach, patience, cultural competency, and empathy. The nuts and bolts of how to help a learner achieve their goals depend on the person and what they want from the program. Learners’ goals run the gamut, Cahill explained, from being able to read a story to their children or help with homework to passing a citizenship test or getting a GED or driver’s license to shopping at a retail store, improving digital literacy, or being able to read and write in graduate school in a second language.

Being able to read to kids or talk to their teachers is a common goal, said Cahill. Malena Mackinlay, whose first language is Spanish, joined the program about four months ago. “I’ve always found motivation in wanting to be able to communicate in English, but my one-year-old granddaughter inspired me to continue learning,” she said. “My experience has been amazing. I got the best tutor, and I’m finally able to enjoy each of my lessons.”

Working remotely has been a plus in some cases, Cahill said. He’s been able to record his Zoom tutor trainings, so if someone isn’t able to attend, they can make it up later. In addition, “Sometimes that one hour a week that the tutor and learner meet is the only hour
that that learner has to work on their English because they’re so busy working multiple jobs or caring for kids,” he said. “This really frees up all that extra time it would take for the tutor or the learner to get back and forth to the library.”

He anticipates they will continue to offer a hybrid option for training and tutoring sessions when the pandemic is over.

Library technicians also run weekly English and Spanish conversation groups, which are open to all learners, with no registration required.

To learn more, call (805) 564-5619 (English) or (805) 962-7653 #3 (Spanish), email literacy@santabarbaraca.gov, or visit santabarbaraca.gov.

Santa Barbara Independent Cover, March 18, 2021Click here to see this story as it originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Independent on March 18, 2021.

UCSB Teaches Thriving During Chaos

UCSB Teaches Thriving During Chaos, originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent Self-Care issue, January 7, 2021.

UCSB Teaches Thriving During Chaos, originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent Self-Care issue, January 7, 2021.

The pandemic has been stressful for all of us, but the abrupt shift to online learning —coupled with social isolation, political unrest, and the loss of just about everything that makes college fun— has been particularly difficult for students.

Last spring, Smaranda Lawrie, a graduate student in UCSB’s Department of Psychological
& Brain Sciences, saw how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted her students’ lives. “My students were really struggling,” she said. “I was teaching a lab course online, and there were a lot of hard conversations with them. There were tears and lots of emotions, so I started incorporating positive psychology practices into the class.”

Using techniques designed to “help individuals be stronger versions of themselves,” Lawrie observed such positive results with her students that they were thirsty for more.

Working with undergrads, particularly Samantha Blodgett, “We thought, ‘Let’s just start a series of talks and see what happens,’” said Lawrie. The speakers they approached were enthusiastic, and students even more so. “We were hoping for 20 students, and we ended up cutting it off at close to 1,000 because we didn’t know how to manage everyone.”

Now, four sessions into the UCSB Resilience Summit and Certificate Program, “I’ve just been surprised about these discussions that students are having during the actual lectures,” said Lawrie, who taught the first course, called Positive Psychology and the
Science of Thriving, before opening up to other lecturers on such topics as mindful
attention training, conditioning for resilience, and overcoming imposter syndrome.

“They are very vulnerable and very open, and it seems like they are really relating to the material and appreciating the information and appreciating the speakers,” added Lawrie, who is trying to make the summit live on. “It’s the pilot year, so we’ll see how it goes. I would love to get this info to as many people as possible.”

Upcoming seminars will discuss finding your inner hero, monitoring mental wellness in students, finding silver linings in negative events, supporting “at-promise” students, post-traumatic growth, and more. See ucsbresilience.wixsite.com/resiliencesummit.

Santa Barbara Independent Cover, Self-Care, January 7, 2021.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on January 7, 2021. To see this story as it appeared in print, please click here.

Dancing With Myself

Dancing with Myself, originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent Self-Care issue, January 7, 2021.

Dancing with Myself, originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent Self-Care issue, January 7, 2021.

A combination of yoga, martial arts, and dance, Nia was introduced to me by my friend Meg Miller, who’s been an instructor at the Montecito YMCA for more than a decade. When the pandemic torpedoed indoor classes,
Miller started an online “Nia Together-Apart” group, sending videos for people to dance from home “with her” every Saturday at 11:15 a.m., her normal class time.

As Queen of the Procrastinators, I left the link in my inbox, red flagged and scolding me for a week before I finally decided to try Nia. I intended to do it at 11:15 a.m., but it was more like 5:15 p.m., when rolled-back clocks made it too dark for my regular walk.

“In Nia everything is based on 52 moves,” explained Miller. “In addition to what is generally known — that moving to music is
good for us — Nia uses findings from neuroscience to create a holistic experience
through dance. I know this sounds a little woo-woo, but plenty of people do Nia purely as a physical fitness experience.”

I cranked up the video in the privacy of my bedroom, figuring I’d come for the cardio and slip in some metaphysics if the spirit moved
me. The last time I danced was in the early COVID days: a TikTok challenge from my son and his girlfriend. After a bit, I started to let loose. Rather than following the leader,
the idea is to listen to your body and enjoy every movement. So I freestyled instead of doing the floor-play, which looked too much
like pushups for my taste.

Although Nia is meant to be danced communally, my freestyle was definitely more “free” in my bedroom than it would have been at the YMCA. Even Miller, who loves the community aspect of Nia, said, “I’ve found a lot more freedom and self-expression doing it without
an audience of any kind.”

My heart rate was definitely elevated, and my spirit did get a little lift. I’ll try Nia again, maybe even next Saturday at 11:15 a.m.

For more information, visit nianow.com.
Santa Barbara Independent Cover, Self-Care, January 7, 2021.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on January 7, 2021. To see this story as it appeared in print, please click here.

Holiday Gift Guide 2020

Where and What to Buy During This Holiday Season in the Time of COVID

If there were ever a year we could use some holiday cheer, it’s definitely this one. Our holiday gift guide for 2020 spotlights some of our favorite stores and shopping hubs, as well as some other ideas to help you get into the spirit of the giving season. You might even find a little something for yourself.

As Oprah Winfrey, one of our favorite Montecito residents, says, “Every gift I’ve ever given has brought as much happiness to me as it has to the person I’ve given it to.” In a year where supporting locally owned businesses is more important to our community than ever, here are some ideas to help get your generosity flowing.

Click here to see the gift guide as it originally appeared in print in the Santa Barbara Independent on December 3, 2020.

2020 Schools of Thought

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

Here are the links to all of the stories in this special section:

Introduction: Schools of Thought 2020

Crane Country Day School’s Flexible Approach

Montecito Campus Embraces Its Outdoor Superpowers

Laguna Blanca’s New Center for Science and Innovation

Hope Ranch Campus Provides Proper Home for Project-Based Learning

Coding Meets Community at Providence School

Students Create App to Connect Kids with Nonprofits

Big Learning on the Littlest Little Farm

O’Connor Family and AHA! Engage Students on a Hope Ranch Annex Property

Waldorf Education Honors the Head, Heart, and Hands

101-Year-Old Tradition Offers a Holistic Approach to School

S.B. Middle School Pedals Through the Pandemic

Riviera Campus Finds Creative Challenges to Keep Kids Active

Montessori Center School Creates Positive Kids with Positive Forces

Developing Well-Rounded Students with Time-Tested Techniques

S.Y.V. Charter School Grows Green Thumbs

Irises—and Intellect—Bloom When the Garden Is a Classroom

Midland Boarding School’s COVID Advantage

Historic S.Y.V. Outdoor School Is Great Fit for Today’s Teens

Marymount School Embraces a Broad New Vision

Independent School Welcomes Diverse Backgrounds

SBCC Foundation Delivers the Promise

An Update on the College’s Signature Project

SBCC Career Center Opens Job Pathways

Helping Students Begin School with the End in Mind

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020. To read the section as it appeared in print, please click here.

 

Schools of Thought

Schools of Thought introduction, originally published in the November 19, 2020 issue of Santa Barbara Independent.

Schools of Thought introduction, originally published in the November 19, 2020 issue of Santa Barbara Independent.

Our Annual Education Guide Looks at Schooling in the Time of COVID-19

What a difference a year makes, particularly when that year is 2020.

As I revisited some of the latest news and trends related to education in Santa Barbara County for the second year in a row to prepare this special issue, priorities have shifted dramatically. Outdoor space is at a huge premium — not only for its educational value and the boost to our Zoom-fatigued spirits that nature provides, but also simply because being
outside has a much lower risk for COVID-19. With depression and anxiety at high levels for people of all ages, social-emotional learning and strategies that embrace the whole child as a priority over straight academics are also more important now than ever before. And as always, so is keeping in step with the latest technologies, both programmatically and with new facilities.

Unfortunately, like just about everything else in 2020, the pandemic has amplified the inequities in education even further. I’m a public school daughter of two public school teachers, and I’m a big believer in and supporter of our public school system. That being said, if I had a K-12 age child at home right now, this would be the year I would be scrimping and saving to send them to an independent school. For one thing, they’re
actually able to open.

And make no mistake, the inequity here is not about political will — it’s all about the money. The independent schools simply have drastically fewer students to worry about with far more resources to take care of them right now, which translates to much better teacher/student ratios and the ability, in some cases, to devote separate teachers to online and on-campus teaching cohorts. They enjoy much more outdoor space to spread out and be physically distanced, and they have the money to make facility improvements more easily — both indoors and outdoors — to accommodate health and safety concerns. They also have more resources to test and regulate student and staff health and to enforce consequences on those who don’t follow the safety rules.

That being said, Midland Head of School Christopher Barnes summed up the way I think most everyone in every kind of educational institution is feeling these days. “With all of my
heart and soul, I’m pouring everything I can into our particular little project, but also being a participant with other schools … that aspire mightily to follow all of the recommendations of public health, and be their partner, not their adversary,” he said. “Do I have too much stuff to read and figure out? And does it sometimes contradict itself? Yes, absolutely. In any case, we’re dealing with a global health pandemic. This is not some little thing.”

For this special section, we asked the issue’s sponsors about what’s exciting in their schools and organizations, and then produced the editorial content independently.
SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020. To read the section as it appeared in print, please click here.

 

Marymount School Embraces a Broad New Vision

Marymount School Embraces a Broad New Vision, originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

Marymount School Embraces a Broad New Vision, originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

Independent School Welcomes Diverse Backgrounds

Founded as an all-girls Catholic school in 1938, Marymount School is an evolving educational story. Over the decades, according to Head of School Christina K. Broderick, the Riviera campus has made “this slow progression from an independent Catholic school to an independent school with a Catholic tradition to an independent school with a couple of Catholic traditions to now where we are as an independent school that really focuses
on the cultural and spiritual diversity of every background.”

Kaleidoscope, the school’s signature curriculum developed more than a decade ago in collaboration with UCSB, “uses the top 10 world religions to allow students to find out about how we decide on our moral decision-making and ethical decision-making through
the lens of different ethnic cultures and backgrounds, both religious and nonreligious around the world,” said Broderick.

“We are really here to welcome all faiths and traditions and to make sure that we have a very inclusive and welcoming community to all faiths and ethnic backgrounds,” said Broderick, who recently formalized the inclusive values of Marymount with new Mission
& Vision statements.

Discipline also looks a bit different than the old-school ways. “It’s not about disciplining kids — it’s about restorative communication,” she said. “My middle schoolers here at Marymount will always know that Mrs. Broderick will say ‘self-reflection leads to self-correction.’ We don’t really do detention here or punitive discipline. It’s all about how we figure out how we made a mistake based on our own ideas about something. And how do we then restore ourselves and the community and say I’m sorry, change your actions, move on.”

Marymount also recently announced a forward-thinking policy on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), while expanding its offerings to include 3-year-olds. A new director of student wellness and DEI and a licensed clinical social worker, a full-time learning specialist, a full-time school nurse, and a full-time director of student wellness are available
to work with all students and families.

“We don’t have a traditional org chart,” said Broderick. “We have learning and leadership teams, and we all make very collaborative decisions. It’s fun — it’s a lot of fun.”

Though she admits it sounds “super smarmy,” Broderick is proud that her favorite social media hashtag is #HappyKidsLearn. “If they’re happy, their brains are going to be open, and they’re going to be able to take in all the information we’re going to give them,” she
said. “But if they’re anxious or they’re worried about their social interactions or worried about stuff at home, they’re not going to be paying attention in class. There’s a ton of research to support that, but whether the discussion is inclusivity or social emotional wellness or the pandemic, we want these kids to feel comfortable and safe.”

marymountsb.org

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020. To read the section as it appeared in print, please click here.

 

Midland Boarding School’s COVID Advantage

Midland Boarding School’s COVID Advantage, originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

Midland Boarding School’s COVID Advantage, originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

Historic S.Y.V. Outdoor School Is Great Fit for Today’s Teens

While every school struggles with COVID restrictions, Midland School’s 2,860-acre campus and nine decades of outdoor-minded, college preparatory education lends itself to an easier pivot than most. Students returned to the boarding school for grades 9-12 in late October.

“I’ve never seen a senior class that’s more vested in our collective good,” said Head of School Christopher Barnes, who’s been working round the clock for months to make their return to the Los Olivos campus possible. “The seniors are like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to make sure everybody wears their mask.’ Inside of these challenging moments are also these incredible opportunities for students to learn how to tolerate adversity, to find the grit and really evaluate what the needs are versus the wants, and really discover the very best version of themselves. That is profoundly exciting as an educator.”

Clearly Midland’s experiential, place-based curriculum is more desirable than ever right now. With health guidelines in place, students will still be able to work on the farm and in the garden, ride horses, go hiking and camping, and all of the other special things they normally do.

Enrollment is up at least 10 percent from last year. “The phone was ringing through the summer, and we definitely had to tell some people no,” said Barnes. “As much as I would love to welcome even more kids, we’re sort of at capacity relative to the situation we find ourselves in now. It leaves us with a few spare cabins for isolation or quarantine if needed; we need to reserve some of that bandwidth for that.”

They’ve gone “very deep into the four Ws,” said Barnes. “Wear your mask, watch your distance, wash your hands, and, finally, we are in this together.”

He’s excited to be an educator at such a pivotal time. “We are living through some major inflection points in history, and at the same time we’re not just dealing with a global health pandemic,” said Barnes. “We’re dealing with Black Lives Matter and a profound shift in perspectives with regard to social justice issues — and we are and want to continue to be a participant in that. We are in the midst of a straight-up economic depression, and we’ve had to dole out lots more financial aid and double down in terms of supporting our families
and make sure that we can honor our promise for them.”

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020. To read the section as it appeared in print, please click here.

 

Montessori Center School Creates Positive Kids with Positive Forces

Montessori Center School Creates Positive Kids With Positive Forces, originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

Montessori Center School Creates Positive Kids With Positive Forces, originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

Developing Well-Rounded Students with Time-Tested Techniques

Dr. Maria Montessori would be 150 years old this year, but her teaching methods have managed to stay relevant for more than a century. Here are a few reasons why Montessori continues to be prized by so many of today’s parents.

Development of a Lifelong Love of Learning
“Children are encouraged to develop a love of learning for their whole lives,” said Melanie Jacobs, head of school at Montessori Center School. “We try to hook into their motivations and interests so that their learning is guided by that and they’re wanting to
learn from inside. I think that’s how self-motivation is formed. We want it to be a lifelong love of learning, so that they’ll be inspired to continue to learn throughout their whole lives.”

The Importance of Independence
“We also focus on independence and self-sufficiency and resilience, which this year especially, I think is actually very important,” said Jacobs. One of the Montessori
sayings is “Never do for a child what they can do for themselves.” “We certainly guide a child that needs help, but then we step back and allow them to do as much of it as they can so that they become advocates in their own learning, especially as they get older. There is a lot of creative thinking and thinking out of the box, and there’s also a lot of collaboration with their classmates, which I think is really important right now because in their future work endeavors, collaboration is a big part of how companies encourage their employees to work.”

The Peace Curriculum
Strategies vary depending on the level of the children, but there’s a peace shelf or a peace corner in every Montessori classroom. “It basically helps children to learn conflict resolution skills really early, so even in our 3- to 6-year-old classrooms, you might see something like a talking stick or a love light,” said Jacobs, who has been with the school for 27 years and is in her fifth year as head of school. These tools are used to talk out conflicts and to
learn to listen to what the other person is saying, “and then together they try to find some sort of compromise to solve their conflict. When they’re younger they need more guidance, but then as they get older into the elementary grades, a lot of the time they’re really able to work out what the problem is on their own.”

Respect and Appreciation for Differences
A big Montessori theme is to encourage a lot of respect for and curiosity about other cultures. “In today’s world, I think that’s very relevant,” Jacobs said. “Families are encouraged to share their culture in our community, and then it allows the children to
sort of see the commonalities across all of the races and cultures for better understanding and respect.”

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020. To read the section as it appeared in print, please click here.

 

Coding Meets Community at Providence School

Coding Meets Community at Providence School, originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

Coding Meets Community at Providence School, originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

Students Create App to Connect Kids with Nonprofits

Challenged by their teachers in their coding class to create some sort of an app, Providence Engineering Academy junior Sydney Whited and sophomore Ruby Kilpper created the Santa Barbara Volunteer Opportunities (SBVO) app, matching service-minded students to volunteer-seeking nonprofits.

Coding wasn’t either one of the girls’ favorite aspects of engineering prior to the project. But Kilpper explained, “I like to tackle each problem on its own and each assignment on its own, so I kept an open mind, and I really ended up enjoying it.”

Inspired in part by Whited’s experience with the National Charity League’s sign-up program for volunteering, the pair designed the SBVO to improve on that concept with an easier interface and a bit more emphasis on the types of work (homeless services, elderly, special
needs, children, animals, etc.) that might interest students. The idea is to find a service opportunity with the best fit for you.

“Especially in the beginning of the app, I was definitely the brainstormer,” said Whited. “But Ruby was the go-getter the whole time,” she said, recalling the various challenges they went through to create the project. “Having a one-step signup was something we thought would really increase the amount of student volunteers in Santa Barbara.”

The girls were recognized for their creative efforts by Representative Salud Carbajal, who presented them with the Congressional App Challenge award on January 6, 2020, and invited them to a reception at the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. “My office and I looked at all the entries,” Carbajal told them. “It was a very competitive pool, but your app rose to the top very quickly. It was innovative, practical, and user friendly. Concept-wise it is very strong, but the way you approached it was very well executed.”

The students were excited to go to D.C. to participate in the annual #HouseOfCode on March 24, but that was canceled due to the pandemic. Additionally, work on the app, which is still in the development and testing stage, was derailed a bit when school went online last spring. But with Providence students back in class as of mid-October, Whited
and Kilpper are hoping to continue to fine-tune SBVO and eventually make it available for the whole community to use.

providencesb.org

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

SB Independent Cover, Schools of Thought, November 19, 2020.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020. To read the section as it appeared in print, please click here.