Students surfing
SBMS students during surf elective (Santa Barbara Middle School photo)

The 2022 school year has begun and Noozhawk’s Private & Independent School Guide is sure to make things easy when planning for your child’s education! Our school guide provides you and your child with all the necessary information about private schools in Santa Barbara County.

To give parents the tools to help make informed decisions about which school is the best fit for their kids in Santa Barbara, Noozhawk has conducted a series of interviews with representatives of local private & independent schools for this year’s school guide.

In this interview, Noozhawk spoke with Darren Brews, Communications Director at Santa Barbara Middle School to learn more about what their school has to offer.

Santa Barbara Middle School

Question: What is the name of your school?

Answer: Santa Barbara Middle School.

Q: How is your school operated or governed?

A: SBMS is a non-profit school governed by a Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees is made up of Alumni, parents, past parents and friends of SBMS.

Q: What curriculum is available and taught at your school?

A: The SBMS academic curriculum is a dynamic combination of standards-based goals integrated with engaging, project-based learning. Students are enrolled in five solid academic classes: English, math, social studies/history, science and Spanish. Our uniquely designed “untethered” math program (following the College Preparatory Mathematics Program) is built on the understanding that learning math skills is a sequential process, and to be successful, both pace and content need to closely match students’ abilities.

For this reason, students are placed in math sections based on their academic abilities not simply by their grade level.This is also true in some of our Spanish classes.

We also offer a Life Skills class that addresses the physical, social and emotional needs of students at this important time in their adolescent growth.

Typically students enter SBMS at grade level or above and are ready to tackle the rigor and fast pace that our program offers.

We do have a Learning Skills program for those students who qualify, and who need additional learning strategies to be at their very best.

Q: What is your student to teacher ratio?

A: In our academic classes, we work hard to keep class size to 16-20 students with one core teacher. On our outdoor expeditions, per our accreditation requirements and best practices for safety, the ratio is one certified staff member per six students.

Q: Can you describe a typical day for a student at your school.

Students sitting around a fire

SBMS Students around the fire – a typical middle school experience (Santa Barbara Middle School photo)

A: A typical full day at Middle School can consist of many things! Take Friday, for instance. On a Friday morning, students meet at the beach at 6:45am for a sunrise swim and donuts. Afterward, they head to school for Diamond Time to take an optional art class or finish their homework before classes start at 9:15am.

The morning is filled with academic classes including science, English, Spanish, math, history, Life Skills and more. Then it’s time for lunch! After a delicious tri-tip or veggie sandwich from our school kitchen, students reconvene for an all-school Friday Town Meeting. Here, they enjoy musical performances and share big announcements for the week ahead before they head off to their afternoon electives.

Some will join the surf team, others will head to Bike Monkeys, where they will learn basic bike mechanic skills to then be of service and lead others during our biking expeditions.

Some will dive into the arts and others will hone their volleyball skills. Heading home at the end of the school day, it is safe to say, they have had a full day.

Q:  How does your school select/hire teachers and how does it invest in their continuing education?

A: On the rare occasion that we do have an open teaching position, we post openings on various platforms to encourage diversity and outreach. Qualified applicants go through an initial screening interview, and then may advance to a series of smaller group interview sessions with both teachers and administrators. Final applicants are then assessed by the hiring committee based on how they scored using an interview rubric, anecdotal observation, resume qualifications and best fit based on the job description.

Every fall the school provides two weeks of in-service preparation to provide relevant training for teachers and staff. This year training included but was not limited to Wilderness First Aid, water safety, mountain bike riding, equity and inclusion, and best practices for social emotional wellbeing and creating a positive classroom environment.

Throughout the year we have weekly faculty meetings as well as professional development days to continue to highlight and teach tips for our teaching staff. All faculty and staff are encouraged to take advantage of professional development conferences and workshops as well.

Q: How does your school measure student progress?

A: The school measures student progress through multiple perspectives. First, students do earn grades in each of their courses. On an ongoing basis, students receive consistent feedback from their teachers to help identify how students are progressing on their trajectory of mastery of learning objectives. As a way to triangulate the data seen by teachers, SBMS also employs external methods of assessing student progress.

On a yearly basis, English teachers administer the STAR test to identify student reading levels.

Additionally, SBMS utilizes an adaptive test (as opposed to a standardized test) called MAP Growth. MAP Growth is an adaptive test which means that each student gets a unique set of questions, and as they answer questions correctly, the test becomes more challenging. As students answer incorrectly, the test questions become easier. By the end of the test, MAP Growth will have identified where a student falls along their learning continuum. By utilizing this test, we are not limited by the constraints of a grade level. We can see if a 6th grade student is performing math at an 8th grade level or if a 7th grade student is reading at a 9th grade level, for example.

As a result of these different measures of student progress, we are best able to support our students.

At Santa Barbara Middle School we put particular emphasis on learning with a growth mindset. This is most easily seen during our outdoor expeditions. We recognize that the mountains we climb on our bikes may begin as daunting obstacles for our youngest students. But over time their growth, strength, confidence, and grit enables them to meet the challenges of every mountain and bike ride.

Similarly, we take this mindset to the classroom. We ask students to self-reflect and self-assess their own mindset when it comes to each classroom. We encourage them to say things like, “I haven’t learned that…yet. I will get there.”

Q: What sports or extracurricular activities does your school offer?

A: We believe that a complete middle school education requires a curriculum that allows for and encourages personal choice in the arts and in physical fitness. Our extensive elective program gives students this opportunity. Our program is designed to provide students with the resources and inspiration needed to reach their unique creative potential, engage in healthy athletic competition, and pursue their own personal fitness goals. The staff who teach these elective classes are passionate and experienced in their given fields.

Students select their own electives each quarter. We encourage students to choose one art and one sport each quarter. This process introduces students to ten different electives each school year.

Our goal is to have students select their electives based on genuine passion and interest. At times, social dynamics and friendships tend to influence student choices. We have learned that when friendships are the guiding force behind the selection process, students may miss opportunities for their own enrichment and personal growth.

Students are asked to select four choices, and we ask that each student put equal weight and consideration into all four choices. It is through the Creative Arts & Sports program that students learn to explore and discover new passions.

Q: How does your school address special education needs?

A: We have a strong Learning Skills program for students who need accommodations for their learning style. These are students with an identified mild to moderate learning difference and have an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) or a 504 Accommodation plan.

Our Learning Specialist helps these students who have learning differences, and together they assess areas of difficulty and develop a plan to better manage their challenges and to ensure academic success. It is important to note, SBMS is a fast-moving program that demands a lot of flexibility and resilience from our students. New applicants who wish to be in our Learning Skills program must submit a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation completed within the last two years.

Q: What opportunities do you provide for parent involvement?

A: There are countless opportunities to volunteer at SBMS, ranging from assisting in a class or coaching a sports team, to helping with school plays, gardening, or food preparation in the Community Kitchen. Parents also lend specific areas of expertise, such as architecture, legal, and construction management.

All parents are automatically members of the SBMS Parent Association and open meetings are held monthly. We invite you to participate in the leadership of the PA or in one of the many committees needed to plan community-building events such as Homecoming, Songfest, the Spring Dinner & Auction, and Rites of Passage.

Q: What is the cost or tuition to attend your school? Do you offer scholarships?

A: Full tuition is $34,500 per year – We do offer scholarships and we also provide tuition assistance for qualifying families.

SBMS devotes significant funds each year to a financial aid budget that helps assist families. In turn, our school community benefits by attracting students that otherwise would not have been able to attend. In fact, approximately 35-40% of our families receive some amount of financial assistance.

Students are awarded financial aid based on demonstrated financial need and the availability of funds. Every family is required to pay some portion of the tuition. Families receiving financial aid are asked to reapply each year. However, once tuition assistance has been awarded, prior recipients are given first preference in subsequent years. To remain eligible, the family must continue to demonstrate financial need and complete the application on time.

Click here for more information about Santa Barbara Middle School.