[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the gala.]

The scenic QAD facility in Summerland served as the site of a fundraising gala on March 2 for the MAD Academy (Multimedia Arts & Design) at Santa Barbara High School to raise critical funding for a new building due later this year at the corner of Nopal and Canon Perdido streets.

Atop a picturesque ocean overlook draped with white lights and the orange glow of heating lamps, past board members, parents, superintendents, principals, teachers and community leaders gathered to enjoy a scrumptious dinner catered by Olio e Limone, with silent and live auctions to raise funds for the final step in financing for a larger facility.

“The new building triples the square footage of what we’re able to do and allowed us to grow to 270 students from 150,” 15-year MAD Academy Director Dan Williams said.

The MAD Academy is a “school within a school” that offers a three-year curriculum at college prep, honors and AP levels with a full range of academic classes in graphic design, photography, web design, animation, video editing and filmmaking.

“MAD Academy is one of those partnership academies where kids are not just learning math, English, social studies; they are actually learning real-world skills that they’re going to take with them and use to probably start a business and go on to college,” said John Becchio, Santa Barbara High School principal for the past two years. “And that’s pretty exciting that we’re doing more than just the traditional four core subjects.”

MAD Academy students also study all the traditional academic subjects and develop critical life skills such as leadership and teamwork combined with the core multimedia classes taught by industry professionals using high-end equipment and software.

In 1996, MAD had 47 students, and in 2013 it is serving more than 250 students through a selective admissions process that creates a broad range of social, cultural, economic and academic backgrounds.

Becchio elaborated on how the subjects covered in the academy are integral to the future of this new digital age and how it has already provided a foundation for student growth.

“I know kids who are currently in the program and have graduated, and there’s some top-notch kids who go on to some prestigious universities that use their skills while they are there,” he said. “It’s one of those lifelong skills they are going to be able to use somewhere in their life.”

The admissions process includes an application, essays, teacher recommendations and an interview. College credit is acquired for all media arts classes offered through Santa Barbara City College and the Brooks Institute, and the program includes sophomores, juniors and seniors.

David Cash, superintendent of the Santa Barbara Unified School District, spoke to Noozhawk about what makes this program so unique and special for the students.

YouTube video

(MAD Academy video)

“It is a perfect example of project-based learning where kids get an opportunity to have a rigorous project that’s relevant to the world of work,” he said. “There’s nothing better that we do in our schools than what happens at the MAD Academy.”

Parent fundraising and contributions provide a significant portion of the academy’s annual operating expenses.

“We actually have a very unique funding model,” Williams said. “It’s a public school so we don’t charge a tuition, but what we do is encourage donations from every family, but we also reach out to the community to raise fundraising grants for students who may not be able to cover their own way through the program.”

As the program has expanded, there’s a need to find ways to compensate costs that the state does not fund, and with the opening of the new facility the prospects for enhanced educational opportunities grows exponentially.

“We now have the facility to be able to open our doors to summer courses for kids who maybe aren’t high school kids and neighborhood kids who want to learn a little about computers and multimedia,” Becchio said. “And the new facility allows us to do that because it’s so much bigger.”

With the increased space and resources, the MAD Academy is reaching out to other organizations within the community to strengthen the commitment to learning for all potential students.

“MAD has really stretched itself and is doing a wonderful job in reaching out to every segment of our entire community to ensure that no student who is interested in multimedia arts and design doesn’t get an opportunity to participate,” Cash said. “And that really, from my perspective, is evidence of their strong commitment to being part of our community in Santa Barbara.”

This commitment to the community includes opportunities both youths and adults in this burgeoning technology.

“Some of the new things we’re going to be able to do is launch afternoon and evening workshops so that there’s going to be smaller classes that other people in the community can actually pay to come and take classes with us,” Williams said. “So adults and other students that may not be able to get into the program. We’re also launching programs in the boys and girls clubs to start preparing those kids to be prepared to come into our program. And we’re also looking at launching summer camps probably within a year.”

This highly successful event was organized in only nine weeks by co-chairs Nancy Kogevinas, Laura Collector and MaryAnne Contreras and parents, not only to help fund the building but also raise money to purchase furniture and equipment, security system and landscaping.

The Santa Barbara High School MAD Academy thanks the generous sponsors of the grand opening gala: Lynda.com, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Noozhawk, QAD, Olio e Limone, Olio Pizzeria, Village Properties, Montecito Bank &Trust and Cox.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.