School children at classroom with raised hands answering teacher's question and smiling
School children in classroom with raised hands answering teacher's question (Noozhawk photo)

When choosing a school, parents often have to consider what is best for their child’s needs and personality. Fortunately, Santa Barbara County has many options, which means each child has the opportunity to flourish while learning.

Compared to many public schools, private or independent schools often have smaller class sizes and the ability to focus on unique teaching methods, such as learning inside or outside, using different technologies to explain concepts, and connecting hands-on learning experiences and academics.

Hands-on learning

Hands-on learning opportunities are an invaluable way for students to understand a topic. This type of learning is the focus of Midland School in Los Olivos, where the campus includes a working farm, and students go without smartphones while they’re living at the boarding school.

“The Midland program merges exceptional college preparation with innovative experiential learning,” according to the school. “With extraordinary resources at hand — 2,860 acres in Santa Barbara County, a 90-year-old culture of responsibility to community and environment, and a deeply committed faculty — we develop personal agency in our students. Midland cultivates the belief that it matters what we do, and we actively engage students in their high school journey both within and outside the classroom.”


Two students painting on stones together (Noozhawk photo)

Because continuous advancements change the way people live and work together, young people can benefit when they know how to adapt. Parents can ask schools about what teaching methods are incorporated into technology, art, science, and other subjects.

For example, at Bishop Garcia Diego High School in Santa Barbara, students take part in a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum, along with multimedia arts and other academic programs that prepare them to succeed in the adult world.

“At Bishop, we value the importance of a traditional high school education while integrating research-based curriculum and instructional strategies that spark curiosity, encourage critical thinking and innovation, and equip students with the skills necessary to be successful in a future that does not yet exist,” according to the school.

Proven methods outside the norm

While many schools function on set schedules, another method is to teach at the students’ pace. For example, South Coast Montessori in Goleta uses an approach that encourages independence to engender a love of learning.

“At the heart of SCM is our adherence to authentic Montessori methodology as developed by Maria Montessori more than 100 years ago,” according to the school. “We recognize that childhood is the time when children are exploring the world and gathering impressions that will be the foundation of all later learning.”

The child-centered approach allows students to choose their activities, leading to confidence, social growth, and initiative while doing purposeful work.

Passion for healthy movement

Learning to love exercise will help young people develop healthy habits that will benefit them throughout their lives. For example, the outdoors program at Anacapa School in Santa Barbara includes physical conditioning and rock climbing in its curriculum.

“Our robust Outdoors Program is woven throughout the fabric of the Anacapa experience,” according to the school. “From engaging electives like hiking, surfing, and yoga to our athletic teams competing throughout the school year in the Condor League, students have many opportunities to try new sports and explore new passions or strengthen their skills with sports and activities that they already love.”

With so many innovative private and independent school options available locally, parents can find a place where their child will learn and thrive.