Crane Country Day School’s Flexible Approach

Crane Country Day School's Flexible Approach, originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

Crane Country Day School’s Flexible Approach, originally published in Santa Barbara Independent on November 19, 2020.

Montecito Campus Embraces Its Outdoor Superpowers

Being a school administrator has always required balancing the needs of families, staff, and students. But in 2020, it’s more like being a tightrope walker. Very early on in the pandemic, Crane Country Day School’s head of school and chief plate spinner, Joel Weiss,
decided that a dual approach (online and on-campus) would make the most sense for his families — if, of course, there was any way of pulling it off.

“For us, it was trying to be honest but also respectful to the situations that every family really is unique,” said Weiss. “There are new rules every two weeks, and it’s just constantly changing. So having that two-pronged approach, though it’s exhausting to implement, at the same time it’s a really flexible approach.”

Crane’s back-to-school plan organized each grade into smaller groups for less exposure. For example, the 3rd grade has 22 students: 18 on-campus students are split into two cohorts of nine, each with their own teacher and dedicated indoor and outdoor spaces. The other four online students also have their own teacher, who is physically with one of the two cohorts, making sure that they still have a social connection with their
classmates, and doing much of the same work.

That ability to use the outdoor classes is what Weiss described as “Crane’s superpower
that we wanted to maximize. That’s our strong suit.” Crane has always been an indoor/outdoor school, and Weiss worked closely over the summer with Director of Development Debbie Williams, who took the lead on designating and constructing 23
unique outdoor learning spaces. With names like Pythagorean Patio, Morning Meadow, and Laureates’ Landing, they are distributed across Crane’s 12-acre campus.

“Part of it was training ourselves to see teaching spaces where maybe prior you saw utility spaces and nature spaces,” said Weiss. Each grade now has at least two indoor spaces and outdoor spaces with fun layouts designed to deliver the education program in a physically distanced, safe manner. It even lets the kids relax a little.

“We have just dumped eight buckets of rules on these kids,” said Weiss. “Kids used to be kids. They were given freedom to be wacky, and now it’s like, ‘Don’t walk here; walk there; don’t touch your face; put the mask on; stay six feet away,’ and on and on and on. So much effort is going into maintaining systems for safety that the outdoors is a little bit of a chill time. We’re trying to introduce a fun factor to all of this that feels kid-centered and lighthearted.”

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.


The Joy of Experiential Learning at Crane School

Stephanie Bagish’s 4th Graders Make California History Come Alive

Crane School, From Schools of Thought, Santa Barbara Independent, November 7, 2019.

Crane School, From Schools of Thought, Santa Barbara Independent, November 7, 2019.

Each day, I witness something astonishing — highly experiential learning that ignites curiosity and joy in our students,” writes Crane Country Day School headmaster Joel Weiss in his letter that welcomes families to the school. “It is called many things — learning by doing, experiential education, hands-on experiences — but it always actively engages the students in the learning process.” 

Take Stephanie Bagish’s 4th-grade class, which focuses on using simulations to bring California history alive. The students take on the roles of historical figures, and their activities — from debating ethical dilemmas to cooking biscuits over a campfire — teach them about the hardships and triumphs of life in early California. 

“Students work in collaborative groups to solve dilemmas, create blueprints, make food of the era, play games, and sing songs, all in order to gain a deeper and more realistic sense of California’s rich history,” explained Bagish. “By approaching history this way, it completely engages the students, encourages their curiosity, and frames the past in a way that makes it relevant and real.” 

Students were tasked with designing a hypothetical 22nd mission for California. “They had to identify a location in Alta California that would provide a sustainable environment, and each group had to design and draw architectural blueprints of their proposed mission,” said Bagish. 

They also delved into the fur trade. Students were grouped into “trapping parties” that looked at the economics, ecology, folk tales, and survival skills during these early days in American history. They took on the persona of mountain folk and read, cooked, calculated, dressed, wrote, sang, and hiked to really experience life during that time. 

“One aspect of our studies involves presenting the children with a series of dire dilemmas that pose ethical and material conundrums which force their trapping party to debate possible choices and make decisions,” said Bagish. “They must consider the pros and cons of their choices and then justify their decisions.” It’s hands-on fun, too: The students learned about food preservation and made their own batches of beef jerky. 

Every teacher at Crane embraces experiential learning, as it is considered a core value of the school. Math, for instance, gets incorporated into gold rush history. “Students must calculate the expense of equipment they must purchase before setting out to the goldfields of California,” said Bagish. “They must also do a cost-benefit analysis when selecting one of three routes that will get them from the East Coast to California in 1849.” 

And it seems that the students simply learn more this way. “Studies have shown when students are physically engaged and allowed to construct, touch, taste, and see real objects and food, then lessons are more deeply internalized,” said Bagish, believing that experiential learning honors the strengths of each student. “Many former students have returned years later and shared vivid memories of being an active participant in our simulations.” 

Click here to read this story as it originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Independent on November 7, 2019. SB Independent Schools of Thought Insert 11.7.19


Honoring Moms at Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care’s Mother’s Day Luncheon

Thomas Rollerson, courtesy VNHC

Thomas Rollerson, courtesy VNHC

Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care (VNHC) hosted its 13th Annual Mother’s Day Luncheon last week at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. Each year the nonprofit organization honors two mothers—one living and one in memory—and celebrates their lives and acknowledges their contributions to the community.

This year’s luncheon raised a record sum—nearly $350,000—which will directly benefit VNHC’s mission to provide high quality, comprehensive home health, hospice, and related services necessary to promote the health and well being of all community residents, including those unable to pay.

The event honored mother and local philanthropist Jill Levinson. Guests enjoyed several tributes from her husband, VNHC Board Member Neil Levinson, as well as from their children. Jill has devoted herself to many  local organizations and causes, including the Santa Barbara Children’s Museum, Crane Country Day School  and Lotusland, among many others.

Shirin Rajaee and Andrew Firestone, courtesy, VNHC

Shirin Rajaee and Andrew Firestone, courtesy, VNHC

Also honored in memory was Barbara Ward Rollerson, who passed away in 1977. Barbara is the mother of Thomas Rollerson, founder & recently-retired president of Dream Foundation. Thomas shared a video and loving reflections about his mother, who passed away at age 44, and will always be remembered for her unconditional love she had for her five children.  As a longtime supporter of VNHC, Rollerson says that the Mother’s Day Luncheon has always been his favorite event because he didn’t have a place to go on Mother’s Day.  “Being in a room with amazing mothers, staff and board members, I’ve always left here feeling like I had spent the day with my mother.”

VHNC Fashion Show, photo by Leslie Dinaberg

VHNC Fashion Show, photo by Leslie Dinaberg

Co-Chairs Jodi Fishman-Osti and Pamela Dillman Haskell welcomed almost 400 guests to the event, which also included the first-ever fashion show. Shirin Rajaee, Fashion Show Mistress of Ceremonies welcomed guests and showcased the latest spring trends from local boutiques, which included styles from Allora by Laura, Bonita, Giuliana Haute Couture, Indian Summers, Lana Marmé, Lola Boutique and Lolë.

Master of Ceremonies Andrew Firestone opened the luncheon program with a warm welcome and introduced Lynda Tanner, President & CEO of VNHC, who then recognized the many supporters and sponsors of the event, including Premier Rose Sponsors Irma and Morrie Jurkowitz and Union Bank.

Established in 1908, Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care is one of Santa Barbara’s oldest nonprofit organizations. For more information on Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care, click here or call 805/965-5555.

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on May 17, 2014.



Education 101

Are Santa Barbara Schools Making the Grade?

Education 101, story from Santa Barbara Magazine

Education 101, from Santa Barbara Magazine

Education 101, from Santa Barbara Magazine

For better or worse, the days when parents would simply whisk their children off to the nearest school are long gone. Discussions of “where are you sending your child?” dominate local parks, pediatrician’s offices and preschool playgrounds. While there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to education, luckily we have lots of options in Santa Barbara. In general, our schools are getting better too–a concerted effort is underway to narrow the achievement gap between middle- to upper-class and low-income students. “Our schools are improving,” according to experts including longtime local educator Gerrie Fausett, the current superintendent of the Hope School District and former principal of Santa Barbara Junior High and Washington Elementary School on the Mesa. She says that schools are “doing a better job educating our students, and have particularly improved in their work with students that are not meeting academic expectations. The improvements and the dedication to making sure that kids are learning what they need to learn are moving forward.” Continue reading

Lionesses of Winter

They Take Pride in Giving Back

It takes passion, money and a lot of hard work for Santa Barbara’s most treasured nonprofit organizations to thrive. This community tradition of giving back by supporting education, caring for those in need, and sharing a love for nature and the arts has an incredibly generous cast of leading ladies at its helm. Not content to simply be the torchbearers, they are also keeping an eye toward the next generation of the philanthropic community.

“I’m trying to spread the circle,” says Shirley Ann Hurley. “I’ve brought young women into my life who care passionately about these sorts of things that I do and they stimulate me and …I love the excitement that is getting to know all of these wonderful people.”

Let’s meet a few of the women who help keep the community alive and well.

The Leading Ladies

Betty Hatch

La Belle Foundation, Granada Theatre, Girl Scouts, Girls Inc., Hospice, CAMA, Cottage Hospital, Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, the Arts Fund, Santa Barbara Zoo, Santa Barbara Art Association, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara Ballet

“My life has been dedicated to the teaching of self-esteem,” says Hatch, founder of La Belle Modeling Agency (1963-1991), and now executive director of the La Belle Foundation, which offers young women free training in self-esteem, self-development and personal and social responsibility.”

“Giving to the community is just a pleasure; it’s a demonstration of our gratitude and our love for everybody here.”

Shirley Ann Hurley
Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation, Family Service Agency, Santa Barbara Public Education Foundation, CALM, Anti-Defamation League, Santa Barbara Foundation

“The things I’ve wanted to spend my time on are the things that help children and young people become the best that they can be, which means to live up to their full potential … The organization that I have probably put the most years into and time is the Family Service Agency. The concept that we could intervene early in a child’s life and with that child’s family and help them raise a more secure child was what hooked me.”

“People keep saying what do you do for fun. I said everything. All of this is fun. And it is. It’s work, but it’s fun. There’s nothing I like better than working with a group of deeply caring people. It is so exciting. And the fact that you know that together you can make a difference in somebody’s lives and your community is just such a reward.”

Gerd Jordano
Cottage Hospital Building Campaign, Westmont College Foundation, CALM

“Board members are ambassadors for those organizations. They are sort of cheerleaders and are able to sort of talk and share what that organization is and what it’s all about. It’s really an opportunity to educate people about that organization and that gives me great joy to share my passion and my knowledge about that particular organization.”

“I’m a former cheerleader so I continue that same passion, only I’m just not jumping up and down anymore (laughs). But I do get very passionate about what I get involved with and it just brings me a lot of joy.”

Carol Palladini
Santa Barbara Women’s Fund

“The concept of the Santa Barbara Women’s Fund (which will have given away more than $1 million by the end of the year) is making your time and money most effectively used by a lot of women writing checks and putting them together and doing direct fundraising, so that you’re not spending a lot of money to make money… Our umbrella is giving in support of the greater Santa Barbara area; it has to be local, to benefit unmet needs for women, children and families.”

“A lot of the work that I’ve done in the past, on and off boards, has some Heartache mixed in with the joy of it. This has been a pleasure from the beginning.”

Joanne Rapp
Santa Barbara Foundation, Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation, CALM, Cottage Hospital, Botanic Gardens, Laguna Cottages, Montecito Community Foundation

“I have enjoyed working with organizations that are targeted at helping youth with their educational goals, in particular the Scholarship Foundation and the Santa Barbara Foundation student loan program. Everything that you work on and within the nonprofit community enhances the quality of life and the effectiveness of our community, but helping the students transfers anywhere. … It will strengthen the fabric of whatever community that they land in.”

The Next Generation

Tiffany Foster
Storyteller, Crane Country Day School, Howard School, All Saints by the Sea Parish School, Lotusland, Lobero Theatre, Santa Barbara Museum of Art SMART Families

“When I arrived in Santa Barbara four years ago … it seemed that every fabulous, intelligent person I met was volunteering for either Storyteller or Lotusland. Before I knew it I was in the center of a vibrant group of caring women and men who dedicated their energy, financial resources, and business acumen to help make a difference in our local community.”

“Storyteller Children’s Center provides daycare and preschool to homeless toddlers in Santa Barbara as well as support services for their families. Young children deserve security, safety and a stable environment. … It is difficult to find a more worthy cause.”

Kisa Heyer
Lotusland, Santa Barbara Museum of Art SMART Families, Crane Country Day School, Storyteller, Lobero Theatre, Sarah House, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, CAMA

“Even after being involved with Lotusland for so long, I’m still amazed by it–not only with its collections, design, architecture, and programs–but also with the story behind the garden. Madame Ganna Walska’s wonderland is such a benefit to our community. It’s magical to see joy that children (all 4th graders visit) and adults express after visiting the garden, and no surprise, really, that we are becoming world-renowned as a one-of-a-kind experience.”

Jill Levinson
Lotusland, Visiting Nurse and Hospice Care of SB, Storyteller, New Beginnings Counseling Center, Lobero Theatre, All Saints by the Sea Parish School, Santa Barbara Museum of Art SMART Families.

“I think everyone has a need for hospice care for themselves or their loved ones at some point in their life. I just feel like it’s very important to support these organizations because they’re necessary. If they disappeared that would be a travesty for our community. Our community is so fortunate to have so much to offer everyone. I think that’s part of what’s really special about Santa Barbara, it tries to take care of people.”

Laura Shelburne
Storyteller, Crane Country Day School, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Stanford University, Lotusland, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

“Winston Churchill once said, ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’ I spent a number of years practicing corporate law, working around the clock during the Silicon Valley boom, and I always regretted that I didn’t have enough time to do worthwhile pro bono work. While I was one of those oxymoronic happy lawyers, I have to say that now it is wonderful to be able to choose my own “clients” based on causes I believe in and use my skills and experience to help non-profits. I also feel strongly that I should set an example for my children by doing things for others and for institutions that will outlast us and continue to benefit future generations.

Lisa Wolf
Santa Barbara Ballet, CAMA, Storyteller, Lotusland, Santa Barbara Zoo, Lobero Theatre, Santa Barbara Museum of Art SMART Families, French Heritage Society, Laguna Blanca

“We started a group at the art museum because we had a feeling that the art museum was reaching out really effectively to kids in town, elementary school students and underprivileged kids and it was also a great resource for very very serious art collectors, but there was nothing in the middle. … So we created this group called SMART families (and it’s Santa Barbara Museum of Art, not that we think we’re especially bright) but a really wonderful group.”

“When you know that you’ve helped make it possible for somebody to attend a program or for somebody to be exposed to opera or some great cultural moment, or to just alleviate human suffering, it’s a great privilege to be able to do it.”

Originally published in Santa Barbara Magazine, 2007

Crane Music Fest rocks out this week

Rather than endure another “rubber chicken and auction” fundraiser, this year the Crane Country Day School will host the first Crane Music Fest on May 1 as a benefit for the Library and Arts Center Expansion Campaign, said Mary Blair, who is co-chairwoman of the event.

This is no ordinary school talent show lineup. Headlining the event will be Jefferson Starship, 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of fame inductee Dave Mason, Fast Freddie of Spiro Jiro, Holly Palmer, Crosby and Bella Loggins, King Bee, Rustic Groove and many other well-known performers.

“The Crane fields are really this little Hamlet, just such an awesome place to go enjoy music,” said Blair. You can hang out with your friends and family, eat, drink get a henna tattoo. It will be sort of a cleaned up version of Woodstock … offering a caliber of music that really anybody in Santa Barbara would enjoy and listen to, she said.

Along with the music, the event — which runs from noon to 5 p.m. at Crane Country Day School, 1795 San Leandro Lane in Montecito — will feature a silent auction and a live auction hosted by Crane Dad Dennis Miller and including coveted prizes like a cabana at the Coral Casino, a week at La Quinta Resort and a shopping/gourmet getaway at the Argent Hotel in San Francisco. There will also be a village street fair packed with artisans and local food vendors.

Tickets are $100. Call Kara Petersen at 969.7732 for more information or to purchase tickets.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on April 29, 2004.