Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 1:08 pm | Mostly Cloudy 64º


Montecito Union School Students Get an Early Taste of College Life

Children in kindergarten through 6th grade are being housed at Santa Barbara City College due to flooding disaster

Montecito Union School elementary students are getting a taste of college life while being temporarily housed on the Santa Barbara City College campus. Click to view larger
Montecito Union School elementary students are getting a taste of college life while being temporarily housed on the Santa Barbara City College campus. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Montecito Union School elementary students stood outside on the grass at Santa Barbara City College on Tuesday afternoon counting out loud as a jump rope swung over the head of an eager participant.

“One, two!”

At SBCC, where classes started this week after the spring semester was delayed because of last week’s Highway 101 closure, school officials sprang into action following the deadly and destructive Jan. 9 mudslides by opening their doors to Montecito Union’s 400-plus displaced students.

The K-6 school at 385 San Ysidro Road sits inside a mandatory evacuation zone and is inaccessible because of recovery efforts in Montecito.

Portable classrooms on SBCC's East Campus, a huge tent adjacent to the college’s Student Services Building on East Campus, and Santa Barbara Unified’s McKinley Elementary School across the street from the college are temporarily accommodating the students who cannot return to their campus.

“We are fortunate that SBCC was able to find space for all these little munchkins,” fifth-grade teacher Doug Bower said. “The kids have responded well.”

For the young learners, returning to the classroom helps restore some sense of normalcy in the aftermath of the disaster.

“We did some reading and consulting with experts, and almost universally they said the best thing for kids is to get them back with their teachers and as close to their normal routine as possible,” MUS Superintendent Anthony Ranii said. 

The school is also offering mental health professionals and counselors to help the children.

A banner at Santa Barbara City College welcomes Montecito Union School elementary students to campus. Click to view larger
A banner at Santa Barbara City College welcomes Montecito Union School elementary students to campus. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

“For the kids, it’s about healing and getting back to learning,” Ranii said.

Montecito Union School, which was constructed in the 1930s, was not damaged when the flash flooding and mudslide passed through, according to Ranii.

“Our school is in great shape,” Ranii said. “When the evacuation order is lifted, we will be able to get back pretty quickly.” 

Ranii said he’s working closely with Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management ​officials to determine when students and staff can return safely to their school site.

“It’s days and not weeks,” Ranii said. 

The school had closed for more than a week due to air-quality concerns and potential fire danger during the Thomas Fire in December.

“You could see the hills on fire from our school,” Ranii said. 

Students returned to campus after the blaze ripped through the hillsides surrounding Montecito, and only attended a couple days of instruction before it had to close Jan. 8 because of the mudslide evacuation. 

“We were in the voluntary evacuation zone,” Ranii said. “We had the tough decision to make, and we decided to close.”

School staff was briefly allowed on their campus to grab safety gear, medication, and walkie-talkies in addition to some technology devices and other items.

“We started from scratch here at SBCC,” Ranii said. “We had about 30 minutes to grab supplies.” 

Community members have stepped up to make financial donations through a GoFundMe page to assist with school supplies, pencils, notebooks, art supplies and books. The account, with a goal of $14,000, was organized by Ranii’s wife.

“We can take the funds and deploy them in many ways,” Ranii said. “Some of the things we need are at our school site.”

Neighboring school districts loaned furniture and instructional materials for students, and local businesses such as Costco and Kmart in Goleta also gifted supplies.

Last week, a handful of students stranded by the Highway 101 shutdown were temporarily attending classes in the Carpinteria School District until the roadway reopened. 

“We are grateful to the larger Santa Barbara community, and to all the folks who helped out,” Ranii said.

SBCC spokeswoman Luz Reyes-Martin said the campus is prepared to allow the Montecito kids to stay as long as needed.

“Our whole SBCC team, without hesitation, happily agreed to doing whatever it took to accommodate MUS,” she said. “Our priorities were to allow them to get back to some normalcy in classroom instruction, ensure safety and ensure a smooth school day. This partnership is just one example of the hundreds we see throughout our community of people and community partners stepping up to support one another.”

Reyes-Martin said it’s a joy having the young students on the oceanside campus, and SBCC hopes to see them again when they are ready to return to college.

“The MUS team has been wonderful to work with,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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