SBHS MAD Academy co-directors AJ Henning and Shea Devlin Peinado.

SBHS MAD Academy co-directors AJ Henning and Shea Devlin Peinado. (KC Thomas)

“Take two!” is a phrase that was shouted daily in the halls of the Santa Barbara High School Multimedia Arts and Design Academy (MAD) as the seniors were wrapping up their final projects in advanced film production and advanced photojournalism.

An energy of hope and positivity has permeated the halls as a challenging and unusual hybrid learning school year draws to a close.

Hybrid learning isn’t the only change. The 2020-21 school year marked the first year of the program’s new co-director Shea Devlin Peinado. As a former MAD Academy student and a graduate of NYU film, Peinado is bringing a grounded but fresh vision to the academy.

“I am so grateful for co-director AJ Henning’s support during this transition,” Peinado said. “We work really well together, and the care and knowledge he brings to the table in regards to our program and our amazing students is so integral to our success. We’re ready to make MAD better than ever.”

One of the areas Peinado and Henning are putting their minds to is academy diversity. This year MAD students founded a diversity committee. In support of their efforts, Peinado and Henning have been making structural changes to MAD, including making freshman year application-free.

“We want to make our program as accessible as possible to any kid who is interested in media arts, and making the move to open enrollment is a step in this direction,” Henning said.

MAD is also using state grants to ensure MAD is free for everyone, which is a departure from the former model of relying primarily on private donations.

As a result, the program is already seeing increased enrollment among Latinx and SED students within the incoming class of 2025, and the co-directors are committed to doing the work it takes to continue progress in this area.

MAD is also taking its production equipment offerings to the next level. This year the Mad Foundation and board made sure to step up immediately to help students, and the support the multimedia art students have been given during the pandemic has been swift and exceptional.

Through generous past donations to the academy with parent support, the Mad Foundation helped fund the purchase of 30 Macbook Pros for students to have access to MAD level technology while at home during remote learning.

The foundation also helped buy a Blackmagic 6k camera for the students in advanced film production. Thanks to the foundation’s help, MAD students now have an opportunity to master professional level equipment while still in high school.

“Using the Blackmagic has been different, because it offers more creative control,” said one of the students, senior Melia Haller. “More lenses, advanced color control, and higher resolution.

“Having a chance to work with more professional level equipment has made me feel more prepared for next year in Chapman’s film production program.”

Dana Valikai, the program’s student enrichment coordinator, has also been working to ensure the student experience at MAD is full of opportunity and learning, even during a pandemic

Valikai has brought in multiple guest speakers from the media arts industry to inspire students; provided students with real-world work experience through MAD AD; and has been instrumental in keeping the MAD community strong.

Now, as the seniors in the Multimedia Arts and Design Academy get ready for the next chapter in their educational journeys, attending colleges such as NYU Tisch, Chapman’s Dodge Film School, and USC Media Arts Program, they leave knowing MAD is back and even better.