For over 40 years, the Santa Barbara Middle School journey has begun with a Deal Meeting between the Head of School and every one of our students. Meeting in our Kiva, every student promises to “go with gratitude,” to give their full effort, be kind, and contribute something authentic to our school community during their time at SBMS. In return, SBMS promises to challenge, inspire, and guide each student on their journey of self-discovery and toward the realization of their unique gifts and potential. We promise to go the extra mile to see and understand each student deeply, forge meaningful relationships, and provide an environment where our students feel a sense of belonging and purpose. Although the challenges of the pandemic altered many aspects of our traditional program, I have never been more impressed and proud of the efforts of our students, staff, and community to honor and exceed the school’s “Deal” commitments under such adverse and uncertain conditions.
At each Deal Meeting, we always share our creed that “Beginnings are Important.” If we prepare for the journey ahead with gratitude, effort, kindness, and purpose, we will have the strength and courage to succeed at life’s challenges. Last year, there wasn’t a school in the world that knew what the year ahead was going to look like or what it would take to deliver a meaningful education. Drawing on the inherent strengths of SBMS’s adaptability, we designed distance learning programs, adventure days, and an array of online electives to begin the 2020-21 school year. By October 2020, our entire SBMS community rallied to provide full-time, on-campus learning safely for all of our students 5 days a week. Under the amazing guidance of our Covid Response Team and with the tremendous support and flexibility of our staff, families, and trustees, we were able to keep our doors open and our community safe all year long. Through the dedication and commitment of our SBMS faculty and families, we were able to meet and exceed all of our learning goals for the year and have some fun with students performing Shakespeare, slam poetry, History Alive dances, Songfest, and many other quintessential SBMS activities. We also found ways for our entire school to get back on the road with our “Rite of the Wheel” expeditions to Ojai and Catalina. We were even able to conclude the year with another very special Rites of Passage celebration with our 9th graders at Godric Grove.
I am deeply grateful for the heroic efforts of our students, staff, parents, and trustees that made last school year such a success. I especially want to thank our 9th-grade graduates for honoring the deal and for answering the 9th-grade call to leadership during a very challenging time. Watching our 9th graders lead the 6th grade down the coast to Ojai after a 19-month hiatus was one of the highlights of the year. I will never forget those magical fires of SBMS’ return to the road and listening to our students share their experiences and insights with creativity, sincerity, and a wisdom beyond their years. This remarkable 9th grade class helped us all return to the road and, in the timeless words of Rumi, they valiantly “led our herd home.”
On the final night of our 2021 9th-grade expedition to Catalina, we circled up around their last SBMS campfire on the beach of Howland’s Landing looking back at the surreal glow of Los Angeles through the marine layer in the channel. Our fire extended late into the night and was filled with singing, laughter, tears, and stories of our journey together. Students and staff alike expressed a deep sense of gratitude for their families, friends, and teachers of all ages. There was a shared sentiment that while the pandemic was challenging on many levels, it had also forged deeper relationships with cohort peers and teachers, or, as one student remarked, “Covid cousins for life!” Later, in our final go around, one student stood up and concluded her 4-year journey with gratitude and the revelation, “I have never felt more like my true Self as I have this year and as I do right now.” How many teenagers do you know who can say that at any time, but especially during a pandemic?
The past few years have been filled with stories of resilience, renewal, and revelations under unparalleled circumstances. As we dive into this next school year, our collective stories will undoubtedly remind us that “We can do hard things” and inspire us to continue to go the extra mile for our students and for each other.