A former teacher and now a development specialist for Partners in Education, Michelle Magnusson has made it her mission to inspire children. “Some of these children don’t have positive role models and have never considered they can be self-supporting and career-driven,” she says.  (Jenn Kennedy photo / www.kennedypix.com)

Looking back, Michelle Magnusson remembers always wanting to be a teacher of some sort. She knew early on that she wanted to be an educator and help create equality for the masses through public education. Luckily, she landed in Santa Barbara with all that intention.

Originally from Glendora, Magnusson moved to Santa Barbara to attend UCSB, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in education.

Growing up, her family camped at Refugio State Beach every summer, and she recalls Santa Barbara as a “relief stop” that indicated they were almost there. When it came time to look at colleges, she had a sweet spot for the area and decided to make it home.

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Magnusson taught in elementary, junior high and high schools. She and her husband eventually moved to Utah so he could attend graduate school, and she took a position in an Orem middle school. Her husband later opted to do his doctorate back in Santa Barbara, and the couple returned.

Magnusson took a position with the Santa Barbara Foundation. She recalls seeing a grant application come across her desk for Partners in Education, and it sounded like her dream job.

Partners in Education is a nonprofit organization with the mission of connecting businesses and individuals with schools and the organizations that serve them, to help improve public education. First formed in 1977, Partners in Education engages in a number of programs and initiatives to further its mission of supporting schools, local businesses and the broader community through partnership, collaboration and volunteerism.

Magnusson is a development specialist tasked with finding volunteers, speakers and local businesses who can contribute in ways the teachers and students need.

“I get to help in so many areas, including staff development, teacher support and community involvement,” she said, adding, “Oh, and there’s no more grading!”

Magnusson says public education in Santa Barbara provides unique challenges because affluent families and those in grave poverty have intertwined lives because of the tourism and service industries that propel the city.

“While some children enjoy extravagant vacations and have much extracurricular support,” she said, “others are nearly homeless with families that struggle to feed them, let alone offer help with homework.”

Magnusson says her mission is to offer inspirational guest speakers and programming to inspire all the children.

“Some of these children don’t have positive role models and have never considered they can be self-supporting and career-driven,” she said.

She brings in a host of professionals to talk about their jobs, which helps the children envision their own futures. She also stresses the value of vocational training, and says some kids are better suited to that track. She strives to offer exposure to a range of professions so the children are open to what best matches their interests and aptitude.

“I want kids to connect what they learn in the class with the real world,” she said.

Magnusson’s job includes matching requests from more than 1,000 teachers in 45 schools and agencies throughout the Central Coast with community resources, such as Westmont College with Los Prietos Boys Camp. The college program had nearly new basketballs it no longer needed, and the camp was thrilled to receive them. Magnusson also fulfills requests for tutoring, mentoring, job shadowing and other projects.

Click here to learn more about Partners in Education, and click here to browse 25 categories of requested volunteer opportunities at local schools.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at jennkennedy@noozhawk.com. Click here to see more of her work.