#childsafety | Santa Barbara Middle School Offers Students a Profound Educational Experience | Private and Independent School Guide


The 2020 school year has just begun and Noozhawk’s Private & Independent School Guide is sure to make things easy when planning for your child’s education! In the midst of the pandemic and distance learning it is now more important than ever to make the right decisions regarding your children’s education. Our school guide provides you and your child with all the necessary information about private schools in Santa Barbara County.

To give parents the tools to help make informed decisions about which school is the best fit for their kids during this unprecedented time, Noozhawk has conducted a series of interviews with representatives of local private & independent schools in Santa Barbara for this year’s school guide.

In this interview, Noozhawk spoke with Meritt Bauer, Communications Manager at Santa Barbara Middle School to learn more about what their school offers and the changes that have been made due to COVID-19.

Santa Barbara Middle School

Question: What is the name of your school and what grade levels do you offer?

Answer: Santa Barbara Middle School, grades 6-9.

Q: How is your school operated or governed?

A: SBMS is governed by a Board of Trustees and operates under Head of School, Brian McWilliams and Associate Head of School, Bianca Vega. We are accredited by the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) as well as members of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). 

Q: Describe what the typical model student looks like to your school?

A: SBMS enrolls uniquely talented and well-rounded students. We celebrate diversity in all ways and seek students from a variety of backgrounds who share the passion and determination to do their best. Those who do best at SBMS respect one another’s interests and talents, and enjoy an energetic life that is balanced by intellect, arts, outdoor adventure, and community involvement. We seek students who have a strong sense of integrity and are open to trying new things.   

Q: What challenges is your school facing due to COVID-19? What are your plans for remote or in-person instruction?

A: Like the rest of the world, we have had to pivot due to COVID-19, but because of our strong outdoor education program, where we often have to change plans on a dime, we are uniquely positioned to adapt and adjust when faced with challenges.

Our students and teachers are thriving in these unprecedented times and, as a school, we have been thoughtful about the programs that build community, support our students and families, and keep everyone engaged both online and offline now more than ever.

To learn more about our plans for fall 2020 and beyond, please click here. 

Q: Describe the typical day in the life of a student at your school for in-person and/or distance learning instruction.

A: A typical full day at Middle School can consist of many things! Take Friday, for instance. On a Friday morning, students meet at the beach at 6:45am for a sunrise swim and donuts. Afterward, they head to school for Diamond Time to take an optional art class or finish their homework before classes start at 9:15am.

The morning is filled with academic classes including science, English, Spanish, math, history, Life Skills and more. Then it’s time for lunch! After a delicious tri-tip or veggie sandwich from our school deli, students reconvene for an all-school Friday Town Meeting. Here, they enjoy musical performances and share big announcements for the week ahead before they head off to their afternoon electives.

Some will join the surf team, others will head to Bike Monkeys, where they will learn basic bike mechanic skills to then be of service and lead others during our biking expeditions. Some will dive into the arts and others will hone their volleyball skills. Heading home at the end of the school day, it is safe to say, they have had a full day.

To learn more about how a day looks with Distance Learning, you can read through our Distance Learning Program 4.0. 

Q: What curriculum is available and taught at your school?

Click to view largerSanta Barbara Middle School students gather around a camp fire on an outdoor exhibition. (Santa Barbara Middle School photo)

A: The SBMS academic curriculum is a dynamic combination of standards-based goals integrated with engaging, project-based learning. Students are enrolled in five solid academic classes: English, math, social studies/history, science and Spanish. Our uniquely designed “untethered” math program (following the College Preparatory Mathematics Program) is built on the understanding that learning math skills is a sequential process, and to be successful, both pace and content need to closely match students’ abilities.

For this reason, students are placed in math sections based on their academic abilities not simply by their grade level.

This is also true in some of our Spanish classes. We also offer a Life Skills class that addresses the physical, social and emotional needs of students at this important time in their adolescent growth. Typically students enter SBMS at grade level or above and are ready to tackle the rigor and fast pace that our program offers.

We do have a Learning Skills program for those students who qualify, and who need additional learning strategies to be at their very best.

Q: How many hours do you expect kids to spend on online coursework each day and each week?

A: Each grade level is doing its best to ensure a balance of on-screen and off-screen time during distance learning. When applicable and possible, teachers will provide alternative activities and assignments that do not require screen time (asynchronous). Each day students have about three hours of academic classes which may be on Zoom, or they may be engaged in an independent asynchronous lesson, with an option to add Zoom electives after lunch.

On average students will spend about 20 hours on Zoom per week between academics, electives and all-school meetings. 

Q: If K-6, will your school apply for the waiver application for in-person school reopening?

A: Although we are a 6th-9th grade school, we have applied for an in-person waiver for our 6th grade students. It is our hope to have our 6th grade class on campus sometime in October.

Regardless, we will have all of our grades getting together in small, physically-distanced cohorts as soon as safely possible.

We are eager to safely dive into some outdoor activities like surf team practice, run through some volleyball skills, engage in bike training, join a sunrise swim, and more. These outdoor events will safely take place even though we may still need to conduct our academic classes via our Zoom and our distance learning plan.

Q: Can you describe your student to teacher ratio?

A: In our academic classes, we work hard to keep class size to 16-20 students with one core teacher.

On our outdoor expeditions, per our accreditation requirements and best practices for safety, the ratio is one certified staff member per six students. Relationships and a close community are essential for these formative years, and we pride ourselves on being able to give individualized attention to each of our students.

Q: How does your school select/hire teachers? In what ways have these teachers either prepared or trained for distance learning?

A: On the rare occasion that we do have an open teaching position, we post openings on various platforms to encourage diversity and outreach. Qualified applicants go through an initial screening interview, and then may advance to a series of smaller group interview sessions with both teachers and administrators. Final applicants are then assessed by the hiring committee based on how they scored using an interview rubric, anecdotal observation, resume qualifications and best fit based on the job description. 

To prepare for distance learning, all faculty (new and returning) engaged in a week of training last spring during the first week of our scheduled Spring Break. This enhanced our capacity to deliver distance learning opportunities and to quickly and effectively meet the need for continuous academic learning.

Weekly faculty meetings continue to highlight and teach tips for our teaching staff, and furthermore, help teachers develop best practices for online teaching success (Zoom capabilities, Google Classroom, and other strategies and software aimed at student engagement).

This fall SBMS added an extra week to our annual start of school in-service preparation to provide relevant training and collaboration opportunities to launch our latest version for online learning.

SBMS will continue to foster collegial collaboration and will look both inside and outside our school community for relevant professional development opportunities to help us grow and excel in efforts to deliver interactive distance learning for our students. 

Q: How will students interact with each other given the distance learning model? Is your school offering any extracurricular activities?

A: At SBMS, we have been thoughtful about providing time for students to engage in both synchronous and asynchronous learning and extracurricular activities. We know how important interaction and socialization are in this adolescence phase and it has been at the forefront of our planning during distance learning.

Breakout rooms, interactive elective classes, and student-centered lunches on Zoom have helped give our students more time to be together in smaller groups. Electives and “Diamond Time” (an optional earlier morning Zoom class) are offered daily, giving smaller groups of students the opportunity to pursue their hobbies and interests or learn something new.

At our weekly Friday Town Meetings, our school community comes together to celebrate student musical performances, hear noteworthy updates from their classmates and school clubs, and to take time to honor one another on their accomplishments for the week. 

Santa Barbara Middle School students on a hiking trail.Click to view largerSanta Barbara Middle School students on a hiking trail for an outdoor exhibition. (Santa Barbara Middle School photo)

We kicked off the school year with an outdoor fitness “Strava Challenge” to build our community and get students working together toward a common goal. The September goal is to cumulatively reach 5,000 miles either on the bike, hiking, walking, or running.

A second community-builder is our Community Action’s initiative to install student-run, pop-up libraries in neighborhoods around Santa Barbara. These are designed to promote literacy, and as a means to safely share books with one another.

We also host weekly online cooking classes with our SBMS Chef, P.A., where families can cook a delicious meal together. 

Q:  Does your school measure student progress? If so, how do you measure this individual achievement?

A: The school measures student progress through multiple perspectives. First, students do earn grades in each of their courses. On an ongoing basis, students receive consistent feedback from their teachers to help identify how students are progressing on their trajectory of mastery of learning objectives. As a way to triangulate the data seen by teachers, SBMS also employs external methods of assessing student progress.

On a yearly basis, English teachers administer the STAR test to identify student reading levels.

Additionally, SBMS made the move to utilize an adaptive test (as opposed to a standardized test) called MAP Growth. MAP Growth is an adaptive test which means that each student gets a unique set of questions, and as they answer questions correctly, the test becomes more challenging.

As students answer incorrectly, the test questions become easier. By the end of the test, MAP Growth will have identified where a student falls along their learning continuum. By utilizing this test, we are not limited by the constraints of a grade level. We can see if a 6th grade student is performing math at an 8th grade level or if a 7th grade student is reading at a 9th grade level, for example.

As a result of these different measures of student progress, we are best able to support our students.

At Santa Barbara Middle School we put particular emphasis on learning with a growth mindset. This is most easily seen during our outdoor expeditions. We recognize that the mountains we climb on our bikes may begin as daunting obstacles for our youngest students. But over time their growth, strength, confidence, and grit enables them to meet the challenges of every mountain and bike ride.

Similarly, we take this mindset to the classroom. We ask students to self-reflect and self-assess their own mindset when it comes to each classroom. We encourage them to say things like, “I haven’t learned that…yet. I will get there.”

Q: How does your school support students who have academic, social, or emotional difficulties?

A: We have a strong Learning Skills program for students who need accommodations for their learning/teaching style. These are students with an identified mild to moderate learning difference and have an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) or a 504 Accommodation plan.

Our Learning Specialist helps these students who have learning differences, and together they assess areas of difficulty and develop a plan to better manage their challenges and to ensure academic success. It is important to note, SBMS is a fast-moving program that demands a lot of flexibility and resilience from our students. New applicants who wish to be in our Learning Skills program must submit a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation completed within the last two years.

There is an additional tuition fee for enrollment in this SBMS program.

Q: How can parents get involved at your school during COVID-19 and thereafter?

A: Community is an important part of life at SBMS; so much so that we included it as one side of our four-sided Diamond Philosophy. Parents and families are encouraged to get involved in our community as much as they can.

They can do this by joining our Parents Association, helping as a trip staff volunteer on our outdoor expeditions, joining the SBMS Parent Book Club, jumping in the ocean with us every Friday morning at our optional Sunrise Swim, and more!

During COVID-19 parents joined us every other week for our virtual “Cups and Questions” – a forum designed to discuss and answer questions about how SBMS is responding during these unprecedented times.

We welcome parents to join their child and Zoom into our weekly SBMS cooking classes. Here, they can cook and chat together as a family, and make a delicious dinner to enjoy.

Last spring our Community Action club hosted “The Purse Project;” a collective effort for our local homeless. Here, we challenged our school community to collect and fill backpacks, purses, cinch bags, etc. with essential hygiene items. We then partnered with “Adam’s Angels” and the “Purse Project” to distribute over 300 bags. This was a family affair where all were encouraged to participate.

This year we are kicking off our community-building efforts with a “Carpe Diem Strava Challenge.” We are challenging each student (and full families are encouraged to join) to bike, hike, or paddle 26 miles in the month of September. Our goal, as a school, is to reach 5,000 miles! We want our students (and parents) safely out on their bikes or on the trails exploring our local community. 

Q: What is the cost or tuition to attend your school?

A: ​Tuition at SBMS for the 2020-2021 school year is $32,625. Tuition is comprehensive and includes books, electives, trip expeditions, and more.  

Click here for more information about Santa Barbara Middle School.



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