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Crane Country Day School Celebrates Veteran Science Teachers at Greek-Themed Gala

Pat Bixler and Phil von Phul share the spotlight as K-8 Montecito school basks in record-setting benefit

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

Crane Country Day School honored two of its veteran science teachers, Pat Bixler and Phil von Phul, for their 30 years of service during the school’s annual fundraising gala on May 4.

Bixler teaches middle school math as well as kindergarten and eighth-grade science; Von Phul teaches sixth-grade geography and seventh-grade science at the Montecito K-8 independent school known for its philosophy of experiential, or hands-on, learning.

“They are passionate about science, they are passionate about the students, and they are passionate about teaching,” said Corby Fisher, the parent of an eighth-grader, in a video tribute to the teachers that was shown at the event. “They go above and beyond to make science come alive.”

Students of the two teachers agreed, with one student saying in the video, “We hardly ever use the textbooks. We are almost always doing experiments.” Among other things, Bixler is famous around campus for having led the eighth grade trip to Baja for 25 years; von Phul is known for riding his bike to school, rain or shine.

“They both have really strong principles and have really honed their craft in the art of teaching,” said Bob Ingersoll, a Crane history teacher who has known both teachers for more than 20 years. “They put the kids first, and they are not swayed by fads in education.”

Head of School Joel Weiss addressed the more than 250 guests attending the Greek-themed gala to herald the two teachers.

“We are acknowledging the extraordinarily important tenure of two of Crane’s teachers tonight,” Weiss said. “It’s truly a remarkable undertaking to work at one institution for 30 years. It commands respect, and it has been their life’s undertaking.”

During the paddle raise, scores of parents then raised a paddle to donate, and a record amount of money was raised to honor Bixler and von Phul, surprising school officials.

“We were pleasantly surprised with the overwhelming response to the paddle raise,” said Weiss, who declined to release specific amounts raised. “We were wowed by people’s generosity, honored and pleased that our community embraced this opportunity.”

The day of the event, parent volunteers transformed the Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club in Montecito into a Grecian paradise for the gala, called “Togas and Tiaras: Crane Goes Greek.” Most years, two of the mothers of students plan the event, but this year, two dads took on the duty: J.C. Gordon, a property manager, and Geoff Friedman, owner of Sweet Alley candy store in Isla Vista.

“Our general game plan was for everyone to have fun, because if they were having fun, it would lead to a successful auction,” said Gordon, who like many of the guests, donned a fancy toga for the evening. “We wanted it to be a relaxed event.”

During the planning of the event, Gordon said, the dads made a concerted effort to avoid micromanaging the various committee chairs.

“The committees were all made up of overly capable women, so we didn’t want to stand in their way,” he said.

Indeed, the committee chairs did an outstanding job, including raising enough money from sponsorships before the night to more than cover the cost of the event. Committee chairs included Rachael Stein and Tracy Kanowsky for live auction; Cheryl Trosky, Susan Thompson and Erin Gavasse for silent auction; Amanda Masters for décor; Kisa Heyer and Amy Mayfield for sponsorship; Erika Petote for raffle; and Max Hirschfield as the lead art project coordinator.

“Herculean” sponsors of the event included Ella and Scott Brittingham, Randi and Terry Cunningham, Lisa and George Hagerman, Melissa and Chris Tarafa and Leslie and Robert Zemeckis.

Six toga-wearing “living statutes” who were spray-painted completely white and who posed upon pedestals among the guests during the cocktail hour were a highlight of the evening.

“They were incredible,” said Friedman, who said the UC Santa Barbara students playing the roles were quite realistic. “My wife and I were having a private conversation and all of a sudden we realized we were standing in front of a live person.”

In addition to the paddle raise honoring the teachers, other fundraising opportunities included more than 150 silent auction items, most of which parents bid online to win, and 18 live-auction items, such as vacation homes in ski resorts and tickets to see the finals of the television show American Idol.

Another way parents participated was buying gift certificates to local restaurants and donating them toward a raffle.

“It was an opportunity for the school to support the businesses that support us every year,” said Gordon, who thought of the idea. “The businesses are always so generous.”

— Julia Rodgers is a Noozhawk contributing writer and Crane Country Day School parent. Contact her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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