Tag Archives: Montecito Union School

Wish Upon a Montecito Star: MUS Fundraiser Gets Help from a Legend

Saturday, May 22 will be a very exciting evening for Montecito Union kids, parents, and the greater community, as Montecito Union School hosts a virtual gala featuring professionally produced musical performances from MUS students. Dubbed “Montecito Star,” the event is in lieu of the Montecito Union School Foundation’s annual gala, which raises money for various causes on campus. This year’s proceeds are earmarked for the school’s Nature Lab, located on the 2.3-acre parcel of land located adjacent to the campus on San Ysidro Road. 

Foundation president Tara Fergusson tells us that earlier this year, the Foundation board was brainstorming ideas for a virtual, COVID-friendly event in lieu of an in-person gala. (Luckily, last year’s event was held just days before the pandemic shut down the majority of the country, at Montecito Club, and brought in much-needed funding that was utilized later in the year when kids returned to campus following months of virtual instruction.)

“We thought a virtual concert would be a good option and sent out an email to all the parents asking if anyone had connections to the music industry,” she said. “Within minutes, Simon Fuller reached out to us, offering to help produce a musical showcase of sorts,” Fergusson said. 

Fuller, an MUS parent, is the creator of the “Idol” franchise of television shows, which includes the wildly popular American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance. He is also a well-known, international artist manager and television producer, and was recently recognized by Billboard magazine as the most successful British music manager of all time. Fuller and his family moved to Montecito last year, and he says he is pleased to help MUS as much as he can.

“It’s a wonderful school, and whatever we can do to help, we will,” he said, adding that his oldest daughter, an MUS student, is participating in the singing showcase; his younger twin girls will be in kindergarten next year. 

Earlier this month, a call for submissions was put out to the MUS student body, and it was expected that two dozen or so kids might participate. “We asked them to send in videos of themselves singing, and were thrilled that we received over 90 submissions,” said superintendent Dr. Anthony Ranii. Ten singers were chosen for solo performances, as well as six featured instrumentalists; an additional 80 kids are participating in the chorus.

This week, Fuller’s professional production team is on campus to record footage, coach the soloists with their chosen song, record the songs in a mobile recording studio, and film music videos for each of the performers, who will also be styled by Fuller’s team.

“Each of the performances will be shot in a different area of the campus, in a celebration of the amazing, gracious school we have here,” said Fuller, who says he’s a massive advocate for the arts in school. “That’s really where my heart is coming from in doing this.”

The Nature Lab has been utilized as the site of outdoor learning during the pandemic; the MUS Foundation has big plans to make the property a major focal point of the school and its STEAM curriculum

Fergusson is co-chairing the event with the Foundation’s fundraising and events chair Cathy Bunnin, and with the technological help of Ben Hyatt. The event will be pre-recorded but streamed online on May 22; tickets are $50 per person, with the option of purchasing a delivered meal for four from DUO Catering for $150 additional. The event will feature opportunities for naming rights at several locations at the Nature Lab, including the MUS prep kitchen, the A-frame low lying tree house, the tool shed, art shed, and others. Participants can also donate for the opportunity to win a campout or picnic at the Nature Lab.

“It’s all for a really fantastic cause. The Nature Lab is going to be transformative for our school,” Dr. Ranii said. 

When fully realized, the Nature Lab will invite learners to imagine, build, and get messy in nature as they care for the planet and one another. The experiential outdoor ecosystem that is currently in progress includes a model of self-sustaining agriculture including gardens, produce, composting, and livestock and other animals; nature-inspired making and tinkering, such as pottery, collage, wood and metalworking, weaving and textiles, painting, dye, and mixed media projects using the natural materials found onsite; a riparian zone created by a water feature; a natural playground made from the logs of massive eucalyptus; and much more. 

The Nature Lab is already being used in its current form, allowing for large-scale engineering, small-scale agriculture, and plenty of opportunities for student activism.

“If we realize the full potential of Nature Lab, we will have created a lasting resource and a living experiential outdoor facility that will help to nurture, excite, and inspire generations of Mustangs,” Fergusson said. 

An old house on the property has already been demolished, a footbridge was constructed linking “MUS proper” to the Nature Lab, a low treehouse has been fully constructed and is already been well-utilized by students, and the Nature Lab is already home to a few animals, including three chickens and one sulcata tortoise. Students are helping to design animal enclosures that better meet the needs of these animals, are more permanent, and better designed.

 In addition, a large-scale solar structure has been designed which will generate 100% of the electricity needs for the entire campus as well as provide shade for students using the northern section of the property. This structure will begin construction next month and should be completed by August. In addition, a full infrastructure plan has been designed (water, electricity, sewer, and gas) and this should also be completed by August.

By September, with the help of student designers and parent volunteers, the school hopes to create gardens, a farm stand, an outdoor kitchen, and more. The hope is that the virtual gala will bring in much-needed funds to accomplish this mission. 

“I’m incredibly grateful for the MUS Foundation for putting this on,” Dr. Ranii said. “And grateful to Simon and his team for stepping forward to support the school and bring the community together. The skill and talent of our kids has been remarkable, and it’s going to be a great show.” 

The event is May 22 at 6:30 pm. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit www.musfoundation.com/gala

Montecito Union School’s Nature Lab Offers Limitless Potential

At the southern end of Montecito Union School lies a 2.5-acre property with nearly limitless potential. After a school-wide visioning process that involved every student, we have named this space and decided upon a bold vision for its use.

When fully realized, the Nature Lab will invite learners to imagine, build, and get messy in nature as they care for the planet and one another. We will do this by creating an experiential outdoor ecosystem that combines:

– Biodynamic/Regenerative Agriculture

– Nature-Inspired Making and Arts Collaboratory

– Environment as Agent of Challenge and Wonder…

– …providing endless possibilities to grow within a unique and ever-evolving natural setting.

Biodynamic/Regenerative Agriculture

When students cross over the Joffrey Bridge into Nature lab, they will be entering a space of wonderment and awe. Students will create a model of self-sustaining agriculture including gardens, produce, composting, and livestock and other animals.  As they harvest, they will decide what to use, what to donate, and what to sell as they engage in both business development and service learning.

Nature-Inspired Making and Arts Collaboratory

At Nature Lab, students will be active creators. This includes nature-inspired making and tinkering such as pottery, collage, wood and metalworking, weaving and textiles, painting, dye, and mixed media projects using the natural materials that abound. While our large solar array will generate 100% of the electricity needs for the whole campus, it will also provide a shaded gathering place for the community or a natural performance and gallery place. The addition of an outdoor kitchen will produce many opportunities for gatherings and for using the produce and crops grown on site.

Environment as Agent of Challenge and Wonder

Students will be able to investigate the riparian zone created by our water feature, the natural playground made from the logs of massive eucalyptus, and engage in student-led inquiries and purposeful play in our low treehouse. Student agency and the pursuit of passions will help us to launch inspired thinkers who will positively impact the world.

The Nature Lab is already being used in its current form, allowing for large-scale engineering, small-scale agriculture, and plenty of opportunities for student activism. If we realize the full potential of Nature Lab, we will have created a lasting resource and a living experiential outdoor facility that will help to nurture, excite, and inspire generations of Mustangs!

Progress Report

Much has already been accomplished at the Nature Lab. First, the house that was on the property was demolished. Though the house was beautiful, it was not up to code for use by public school students, so it needed to be removed.  The removal of this house also made for much more usable space at the Nature Lab.

To provide an entrance befitting the Nature Lab, the Joffrey Footbridge was constructed, linking “MUS proper” to the Nature Lab. This picturesque footbridge meets the functional need to safely get to the property, and also creates a distinct feel for the user that they are entering a place of wonderment and beauty.

The low tree house has also been fully constructed and is already been well-utilized by students. It has served as the site of science experiments, reading circles, impromptu dramatic play, has been converted into a colonial schoolhouse by 5th graders, and has provided a teaching spot for classes utilizing Nature Lab.

Our Nature Lab is already home to a few animals, including three chickens and one sulcata tortoise. The animal enclosures are simple and safe at the moment, but students are already helping us to design animal enclosures that better meet the needs of these animals, are more permanent, and better designed.

A large-scale solar structure has been designed which will generate 100% of the electricity needs for the entire campus as well as provide shade for students using the northern section of the property. This structure will begin construction June of 2021 and should be completed by August of 2021. In addition, a full infrastructure plan has been designed (water, electricity, sewer, and gas) and this should also be completed by August 2021.

That means that by September 2021 we will be ready to really develop this property! 

With the help of student designers and parent volunteers, we hope to create gardens, a farm stand, an outdoor kitchen, and more. We’ll also work to professionally design a water feature which will be a centerpiece of the property and attract birds and other animals while providing an excellent opportunity for students to become scientists as they explore the natural world.

Latest on School Reopening

In addition to the majority of the business sector permitted to reopen indoors with modifications earlier this week, most county public schools – bolstered by happy and tired parents and caregivers – reopened in early March. Montecito public schools, Montecito Union School and Cold Spring School, have been open for in-person learning since late September, after applying for and receiving a waiver from the County’s Health Officer. Both schools have since conducted the majority of in-person learning outside, modifying both campuses to accommodate outdoor, socially distanced curriculum. Both school superintendents report that there has been no COVID-19 transmission at either school, and all staff and teachers have tested negative. The majority of teachers at the two schools have had the first round of the COVID-19 vaccination. 

One805 helped local schools prepare for the reopening: Harding Elementary School principal Veronica Binkley and One805 CFO John Thyne during a mask distribution in February

Crane Country Day School has also been open since October, and Kristen Peralta, Assistant Director of Admission tells us vaccines arrived last week for Crane employees. “There was an immense sense of peace that they were one step closer to safety and would soon be relieved of the burden that had been upon them since beginning On-Campus learning last October.”

By the end of the week over 90% of Crane’s employees had received at least their first dose of the vaccine. “For a school that has been providing full-day, on-campus learning five days a week since October, as well as an online learning option, this is a significant step in the right direction,” Peralta said, crediting Crane’s Health Administrator, Nurse Savannah Aijian,for helping coordinate the effort. “Sharing vaccine information and availability became a group effort as chains of emails were sent among Crane employees, including 5 am messages to let others know that appointments were available,” Peralta said. “Teachers rallied to cover their colleagues’ duty stations so that they could get to their vaccine appointments. The glimpse of hope and sense of gratitude sparked camaraderie, and the vaccinations marked a milestone in the academic year and in the school’s history.”

In the five months that the majority of the Crane community has been on campus, students, parents, teachers, and staff have become accustomed to the safety measures implemented this year, including handwashing stations, a daily health questionnaire, a full-time school nurse, plexiglass at every desk, coyote badges around campus marking a six-foot distance, and 23 unique outdoor learning spaces. Experiential learning areas in the various quads and plazas around campus have allowed teachers and students to spread out, enjoy fresh air, and look at their education outside of the four walls of the classroom. “Teachers have been grateful to be offering their students an exceptional education whether they are on campus or at home. The school is grateful that its decisions and the precautions of Crane families have together successfully allowed for a 0% transmission rate of COVID-19 on campus. Finally, the entire community can now be grateful that the widespread vaccination adds another thick layer of protection to our schools,” Peralta said. 

Crane will continue to offer a slightly modified two-prong approach with the vast majority of families choosing on-campus learning, while a smaller set of families in third through eighth grades continue to rely upon Crane’s online learning option. “I am hopeful that if we continue to wear masks, and we continue to socially distance, we will be able to slowly return to a more normal school environment,” said Head of School Joel Weiss.

The nonprofit also donated disaster kits in Lompoc: pictured here are Mason Schmidt, Lompoc Police Chief Joseph Mariani, Angela Schmidt, and Captain Kevin Martin

Last month, in order to help prepare local school campuses in Santa Barbara for the reopening, One805, a local nonprofit, donated 1,000 masks and 50 disaster kits to Harding Elementary School. “The new double masking recommendations from the CDC combined with the community beginning to open up has increased a need for masks,” said Angela Schmidt, One805 Executive Director. “Never has it been more important to work together as one county to abide by all safety recommendations.” 

One805 was formed to create a way for all members of our community to support First Responders and contribute to the public safety needs of Santa Barbara County; the organization was formed following the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow in January 2018. “We are the only organization that supports multiple First Responder agencies. The One805 Advisory Council, which helps direct donations to where they are most needed, is comprised of the department heads of 11 separate First Responder agencies from Carpinteria to Santa Maria and throughout the county,” explains John Thyne, a founding board member. The group also recently delivered 300 disaster kits to the Lompoc Police Department; each hand-packed kit contained two masks, soap, sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer, tissues, and a note of encouragement.

“It’s remarkable to witness the impact One805 has had on the overall safety of our community” says Schmidt. “We established an emergency Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/One805sb to consolidate messages from multiple agencies during emergencies and we work on public safety initiatives county-wide.” 

One805’s slogan is Prepare, Equip, Support, and they do all three. To learn more visit www.one805.org.

Learning, Naturally

Vanessa Scarlett, the science specialist at Montecito Union School, bubbles with excitement at the plans for a 2.5-acre parcel of land adjacent to the school’s bucolic campus.

Over the next two years, the raw space will be transformed into the Nature Lab replete with a pond, plant beds, and even some chickens. For the elementary schoolers the lab will provide both unstructured play and rare opportunities to integrate their learning.

Scarlett gives the example of students building owl boxes. First the students would model their designs in the Innovation Lab, and then use the CNC laser cutter to make those designs a reality. Once installed, they could take motion detecting cameras from the Science Lab and study whether the owls used the boxes and if so, how often.

“There are these two important parts of the Nature Lab,” Scarlett says. “Giving kids freedom in a space that is so magical, and being there with intent and purpose.”

“Research has shown for decades that people learn best by doing. It’s not by sitting and listening to a lecture, or reading a book. It is about doing.”

For Montecito Union’s Superintendent, Anthony Ranii, the Nature Lab is a critical piece of ensuring his students are ready to make positive contributions in a fast changing world.

“When our students become adults, the most complex problems they will have to face stand at the intersections between nature and technology,” Ranii says. “Climate change, wildfires, disease control, waste management, water conservation: all of these require both facility with technology and a deep knowledge of the natural world.”

The organizing force behind the Nature Lab is the Montecito Union School Foundation (MUSF), the school’s charitable arm comprised primarily of parents. The foundation has invested $200,000 in the project thus far, and is looking to raise an additional $400,000 to get it done.

Not only will this latest amelioration further cement Montecito Union School’s status as one of the nation’s premier public schools, but also it promises to seed generations of problem-solving youngsters with deep knowledge of the natural world.

“The world is counting on our students to develop these skills to solve the most complex problems in the world today,” Ranii says.