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John Daly’s talk during the Social Skills America (SSA) luncheon on Sept. 8 was peppered with stories of how he runs into former Key Class students at various businesses around Santa Barbara. The refrain that follows him throughout town is simply, “Hey, Mr. Daly! I got this job because of you!”

Social Skills America, the nonprofit organization that supports The Key Class and the youth of Santa Barbara and beyond, celebrated its recent accomplishments at the Ennisbrook Club House in Montecito.

The Key Class, which is currently being taught in all the Santa Barbara Unified School District high schools, teaches “soft skills” such as social etiquette; how to get along in life with others; how to converse with others; how to handle finances in the everyday world; how to calculate the real cost of food, utilities and rent; how to budget; the cost of having a baby; discussions about college versus trade schools and entrepreneurship; respect; tolerance and the consideration of the feelings of others; and job search and retention skills. SSA provides the funding for the courses taught grades nine through 12.

Sixty enthusiastic supporters participated in the luncheon. Marcia and Jamie Constance provided the beautiful venue, and Seasons Catering donated a delicious lunch of salmon salad and scrumptious assorted sweets.

As founder and president of The Key Class, Daly introduced prominent fellow SSA board members: Neil Levinson, president; Merryl Brown, CFO; Marybeth Carty, secretary; and Steve Ainsley, Marcia Constance, Ann Cowell, Chris Emmons, Brian Slotnick-Lastrico and Jesus Terrazas.

Daly provided a progress report covering the past two years of Key Class activity.

“We have been able to double the number of students taught by bringing on one more instructor,” he said. “The Key Class taught 1,380 students in school year 2015-2016. In September 2015, I taught 17 classes with 510 students. In the spring of 2016, with Genna Myhre, we covered 29 classes and 870 students.”

Daly went on to say that since its inception in 2010, The Key Class has taught more than 6,000 students for SBUSD, as well as an additional 800 in other community settings throughout the Santa Barbara area.

The cost to send one student through this program is $150 for 10 hours of training. Daly stated that with the financial support of the community he hopes to achieve his goal of 9,000 students by the fall of 2017. Without the support of the citizens of Santa Barbara, this will not be possible.

In this past spring semester, The Key Class team began collecting quantitative and qualitative data with positive results. Before and after the program, all participants took the same computerized test twice with a total of 60 questions. The test was administered to two control groups and two experimental groups.

The pre- and post-test questions were designed to answer the knowledge, behavior and psychological attitude for program objectives. The tests revealed a dramatic increase in the experimental group.

Participants who took The Key Class enhanced their test scores with a significant increase of 18.75 percent. In addition, the paired test was highly significant, indicating participants greatly enhanced their performance in various professional skills, including communication, professional manners, successful interview protocols, and an overall proper code of behavior in both educational and business settings over the program.

“This initial evaluation is just the beginning for us as we will continue to gather data and expect a result just like this one where students will continue to show improvement through both quantitative and qualitative data that we collect in both business and social etiquette skills,” Daly said.

Following Daly’s report, Levinson spoke about his experiences as a criminal defense attorney working with at-risk teens. Because of his observation of young men and women who made the wrong choices, Levinson has dedicated himself to helping spread the values and skills that The Key Class provides. He believes that if the majority of his clients had been exposed to The Key Class, it would have changed the direction of their lives.

Barnaby Gloger, principal of Rincon High, Foothill High and Carpinteria Family schools, described the positive effect that The Key Class has made on his students.

He noted how a student burst into his office one afternoon after having written a Key Class-instructed résumé for a job. He described the pure pride and joy on the student’s face as he shoved the résumé into Gloger’s hands.

“I didn’t even know what the job was, but I was ready to hire him on the spot!” Gloger said. “His enthusiasm was overwhelming and what our community needs.”

Next up, Ed Cué, director of community outreach for the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse (CADA), said that students who took The Key Class course through Teen Court (funded through CADA) were noticeably different. He noted the dignity and respect with which they treated others and the self-confidence that just knowing how to greet and shake someone’s hand instilled in them.

Cué tied lower recidivism rates among at-risk teens who took the program to The Key Class. He ended his part of the program by stating that “CADA believes in The Key Class. We’ve seen the results, and everyone needs to support it!”

Supporters then enjoyed a new video just out from SSA about The Key Class.

Afterward, Jacob Savala, a former student, shared how The Key Class changed his life for the better. He explained that once he learned how to converse with others and understood the tricks to résumé-writing and interviewing he had the self-confidence to successfully secure a job after leaving school.

Savala especially found the additional coaching on a continuing basis that he receives from Daly after completing the course invaluable. He expressed that this has made a big difference in his success. Students get help even after the class is over, and Savala and many others have benefitted from it.

If you would like to help the youth of our community and help change lives for the better, click here for more information about The Key Class. Click here to make an online donation through Social Skills America.

— Carol McKibben is communications manager for The Key Class. Contact her at