With a spectacular sunset over the Santa Barbara Channel as the backdrop, fans and families of the Multimedia Arts & Design (MAD) Academy at Santa Barbara High School turned out en masse March 8 for the second annual MAD Gala.
From QAD’s scenic campus in Summerland, guests were treated to a panoramic view of the ocean while they perused the “Spring Forward” gala’s silent auction items and enjoyed cocktails and hors d'oeuvres from Olio e Limone Ristorante in downtown Santa Barbara.
The MAD Academy offers students a unique education in the latest in media arts technology, all integrated into their standard curriculum. Students enter the academy in 10th grade and stay until they graduate. The 270-student academy is in its first year at its spacious, newly renovated building on the east side of the SBHS campus.
“The MAD Academy curriculum consists of English, history, science and media arts,” MAD Academy director Dan Williams told Noozhawk. “Students take these four classes each day in curriculum that is tailored to a career in the media arts ... This allows the teachers to collaborate between the classes, creating cross-curricular projects.”
One example of the integration of media arts and academics is a project in which students create and manage blogs on a subject they are “interested and passionate” about, said MAD teacher Donnie Hedden, who leads a class in social media and web development.
Students learn to use WordPress, write blog posts and analyze traffic on their pages, Hedden said. One student runs a blog on gluten-free cooking, for which she does her own food photography, while another reviews local mountain bike trails, he added.
“I try to teach them how to tell stories,” he explained.
MAD students also have the opportunity to do internships with a variety of companies, employing the skills they’re taught in their specialized classes.
Board president Ben Mascari has been impressed with the MAD students who have interned with his screen-printing company, Serigraph Resortwear.
As his daughter went through the MAD program, Mascari noticed, “Boy, this is really benefiting a lot of kids!”
Mascari noted that 20 percent to 25 percent of MAD students are considered at-risk, meaning they typically have a graduation rate of only about 17 percent and would “normally not be engaged.” But the MAD Academy graduation rate is a stunning 98 percent, he beamed.
By teaching teens how to improve their skills in areas that they are already fascinated with, such as designing websites, sharing on blogs or creating movies, the MAD Academy is “luring them into being better students,” said Laura Collector, co-chairwoman of the gala committee.
While coordinating the silent auction, Collector was pleased to notice that parents whose children graduated from the academy two to three years ago were happy to donate items, showing that “they still have a soft spot for MAD.”
Collector was part of the dynamic trio of the “three MAD moms” responsible for organizing the event.
Mary Anne Contreras, an event planner at MaryMac events, served as the other co-chairwoman and oversaw the details of the gala.
Nancy Kogevinas, gala chairwoman and board member, coordinated sponsorship development.
One of the highlights of the entire evening, Kogevinas said, was the food provided by Olio e Limone, which is owned by MAD Academy parents Elaine and Alberto Morello.
“Without them, this party would not be what it is!” she exclaimed.
Collector credits Williams’ “incredible rapport with the kids” as a big reason for the program’s success. Likewise, Mascari calls him “the driving force” of MAD.
According to Williams, though, the MAD Academy program has a huge impact on the students’ lives because they “are not only trained in relevant and current career skills but they also become part of a community where they feel connected and supported.”