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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 3:30 am | Fair 39º

Good for Santa Barbara

Dan McCaslin: Nonprofit Crane Country Day School Takes Learning to New Heights with Outdoor Treks

When most Santa Barbara residents think of local nonprofit organizations, they often fail to see our network of independent schools as nonprofit educational institutions.

Crane Country Day School is a historic nonprofit K-8 school of about 250 students located in Montecito.

Founded in 1928 by CalTech professor William Crane, the school’s emphasis from the outset has been on managing a balance between rigorous academics and joyful, aesthetic expression, notably in the arts and on the school’s sophisticated stage in Cate Hall (no affiliation with Cate School).

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When I joined the faculty in 1980 as a history teacher, the outdoor quality of everything at the school was striking: The pristine, 11-acre campus off San Leandro Lane continually induces teachers and children to get out from under the classroom roofs and enhance the active learning outdoors under the many shade trees, notably some gigantic oaks, magnificent sycamores and a stand of eucalyptus giants.

Crane has always been a soccer school, and the sports programs featuring basketball and volleyball naturally join the outdoor programs (full disclosure: I led these programs for several years).

In the early years, we had an interesting balance between sea, desert and mountains. Sixth-graders spend a week at Catalina snorkeling and immersing themselves in marine science (and still do after 30 years).

Seventh-graders had a dry desert experience at Death Valley, led by a magnificent teacher and desert rat, Mr. David Echols. Eighth-graders went to various locations for a week, including Yosemite, and later Bryce and Zion or Humboldt County.

In all these instances of outdoor explorations, the teachers had full involvement and designed curriculum work and learning that seamlessly joined joyful outdoor exploration. The teachers and administrators, then and now, believe these are important social bonding times for our students as well, and for this reason parent chaperones are not used.

In the early 1980s, highly respected science teacher Pat Bixler and I created an eighth-grade class trip to Bahia de los Angeles, which he turned into a nine-day fall learning adventure with three emphases: marine science, Spanish language and community service in the village.

Crane selects these trips very judicious, and as the world changes, they have adapted these outdoor experiences. After 24 years, the “senior trip” moved from Baja because of reports of violence in that area, first to Costa Rica (keeping the focus on Spanish) and now to Peru. In all these cases, another major educational goal is to place the students with trusted adults into new places with different flora and fauna where they also can live in another culture.

As a nonprofit institution, Crane has purposefully remained a small school and maintains a student-teacher ratio of around 1-to-10 (it varies). Just as there is an emphasis on the outdoors and a diverse variety of areas to explore, the school has long focused on several types of diversity within the school. Crane defines “diversity” in terms of geographic, talent, socio-economic and ethnic domains.

About 40 percent of the students hail from Montecito, the same from Santa Barbara and Goleta combined, and about 20 percent some from the “south” (Carpinteria and Ojai). Minority students make up about 20 percent of the school’s population.

Of course, independent (private) schools have many advantages, and they are expensive. At nonprofit Crane, 23 percent of students receive some kind of financial aid.

Nationally, independent and parochial schools enroll around 9 percent of all K-8 students, and that means this 9 percent is not involved in public education yet their parents continue to pay taxes in support of the public schools (which I believe is appropriate).

In Jurgen Osterhammel’s prize-winning The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century, he notes that one of the salient trends in the “long” 19th century (to 1919) is a move toward private (nonpublic) education. There is a lively debate about the positives and negatives of this trend, but I am no fan of the for-profit charter school movement.

For many years, other teachers and I would take a handful of students for weekend car-camping and occasional backpacking trips locally. These include enchanting places like Nira Camp, Madulce, Piedra Blanca, Reyes Peak, Davy Brown Camp, Bear Camp on the upper Sisquoc, as well as body surfing excursions to El Cap and Refugio State Beach.

In calculating my own 36 years teaching at Crane (retired in June), I’ve had the joy of spending nearly five months of my life “in the field” with wonderful children and fellow adults. There is something in the water and the hills that foster camaraderie, curiosity and a type of inner calm much needed in our hectic urban world of screens, white noise and iClutter. One of my requirements for such school trips has always been the elimination of electronic devices in favor of group activities, discussion and simply slowing life down for students and children.

A final pleasure for an outdoor enthusiast like me is how often former students write or approach me in town to tell me how much they derived from these outdoor quests or how they continue to head for the interior and make a point of dragging their children along, too. My hope with my outdoor columns is to continue to inspire parents and educators to draw children and students out of the classrooms and homes and into the wild areas near us.


» The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century by Jürgen Osterhammel (translated by Patrick Camiller, Princeton University Press) is available at Chaucer’s Bookstore.

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— Dan McCaslin is the author of Stone Anchors in Antiquity, and has written extensively about the local backcountry. He welcomes reader ideas for future Noozhawk columns, and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to read additional columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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