Pulling into downtown Santa Barbara and drawing crowds from the farmers market, the Get Schooled National Challenge and Tour set up shop Tuesday afternoon to stress the importance of education.

The effort is a partnership of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Orfalea Foundations, AT&T and Viacom. The Get Schooled bus campaign aims to draw people into the education conversation.

Actor Christian Slater also was on hand to talk with passers-by about the importance of education in his life. Mingling easily with the crowd, he chatted animatedly with Margie Yahyavi, executive director of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, about the organization’s Keep the Beat program, which provides music education in the schools. He also talked about online local news with Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen and posed for pictures with Santa Barbara Partners in Education’s Ben Romo, Michelle Magnusson and Chelsea Pacino, and other fans.

Increasing graduation rates among students across the country has been one of the key efforts of the outreach, and the group has been leveraging star power in its efforts to promote education. Spokeswoman Carol Treat said Get Schooled even brought rap star Ludacris to schools during its stop in the San Francisco area.

Lois Mitchell, president of the Orfalea Foundations, said the education conversation will continue into next year, when the film Race to Nowhere screens at The Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara on Jan. 9.

Natalie Orfalea, who with her husband, Paul, started the foundations that bear their names, told Noozhawk that there is growing awareness of the need for closer community involvement in all aspects of education.

“It’s a great time to be doing this campaign,” she said. “And we’re appreciative that so many local organizations have joined us in this effort.”

Get Schooled has traversed its way across the country, stopping in eight cities, beginning in New York City, and will end its tour in Denver, Treat said. On its Seattle stop, the bus was pulled inside a mall. Another stop in the area put the bus in the middle of 5,000 people who had gathered to participate in Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity.

All wrapped up in Santa Barbara's Partners in Education, program director Ben Romo, right, tries to enlist Christian Slater in the cause.

All wrapped up in Santa Barbara’s Partners in Education, program director Ben Romo, right, tries to enlist Christian Slater in the cause. (Chelsea Pacino photo)

Each city has looked slightly different, but connecting to local organizations in the area has been key, said Treat, adding that there’s been a lot of interest everywhere the tour has been.

“We’ve seen all kinds of people who want to make a commitment to support education,” Treat said.

While the national release of Waiting for Superman has kept education reform at the forefront, Treat said the documentary unearthed some big problems with the system — problems that can seem insurmountable.

She said she saw the same thing happen when An Inconvenient Truth came out, and people felt that climate change was too big a problem to address. Taking reusable bags to grocery stores and other smaller steps helped people feel they could make a difference, Treat said.

“We’ve broken it up into smaller tasks” to deal with the larger issues, she said, adding that encouraging students to take a pledge to improve their attendance at school or pledge to research colleges places the emphasis on personal responsibility.

Those interested in getting involved with the movement can click here to register on the Get Schooled Web site.

Other local resource groups participated Tuesday, as well, including Santa Barbara Partners in Education, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara, First 5 Santa Barbara County Children and Families Commission, Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID), Future Leaders of America, s’Cool Food Initiative and s’Cool Gardens, the Autism Society of America’s Santa Barbara chapter, and neighborhood collaborations like the Westside Children’s Zone and Carpinteria Children’s Project at Main.

Noozhawk and sbparent.com were there as co-sponsors of the event.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @laraanncooper, @NoozhawkNews or @Noozhawk. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.