Santa Barbara Middle School's outdoor program is recognized for its excellence. Through riding and other intensive outdoor activities, students face challenge and adversity. Ultimately, they discover their inner strength and the depth of their compassion for others. This process of self-discovery is a critical part of our education program. Our students learn self-reliance, concern for peers and a life-long attitude of service.

What we offer to students through these journeys truly cannot be duplicated. Our itineraries have been developed over 40 years, in concert with our academic curriculum. The sequence and timing of our expeditions, as well as recurrent themes and locations, are inspired and inspirational. The participation of our faculty and staff builds uncomparable mentor relationships, and the cohesive organization reflects our ever-deepening understanding of adolescent needs for growth and challenge.


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    During the first week of school the faculty, staff and students head out on a two-day Orientation Ride & Overnight together. We mix sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth grade students in “families” with SBMS faculty. This two-day journey serves as an orientation on how our outdoor expeditions work, and is a training ground for cycling safety and a chance for new students to bond with returning students, teachers, and staff. 

    Every year the ninth grade Channel Islands trip “From The Vision To The Source” is overwhelming success. Students and teachers spend four days and nights aboard the dive vessel Vision at the Channel Islands studying, researching, teaching, and having a lot of fun learning about the special place the islands have in all of our lives. Students journey across the channel on a mission to put weeks of research into practical application.
    For three weeks leading up to the expedition, ninth graders study island ecology, marine biology, fisheries management, anthropology, and resource management so that they can teach others about issues that effect the Islands. Days on board are filled with snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, and quite importantly, student-led seminars about “all things island.” Lessons on early explorers are given at the Cabrillo monument, high on a wind-swept hill on San Miguel Island. Students give reports on kelp forests while sitting on top of the waving fronds. Students also learn about the Chumash and their place on the islands while sitting in the dark with only the infinite stars to light the night sky. Most of our ninth graders remember this a peak experience of the ninth grade year.

    The fall journey takes place in October for six days and is by bicycle, usually in the Central California region. The entire school travels together for all or part of the week as the theme always revolves around “teamwork.” It brings the entire school together. There is opportunity for the more experienced, returning students to mentor the new students to make sure that they learn “to do it right.” 
    Students are organized into “family groups” at the beginning of the trip. Families share rotating cooking duties, eat their evening meal together and participate in each day’s activity as a team. Family groups include one teacher, a bike monkey (mechanic) and often a parent. Each student chooses a partner within their family for the day’s ride. Generally, the students have the entire day to complete the ride. The goal is to start and finish every ride and to push oneself physically and emotionally. 

    Early March is a perfect time to get the students out of the classroom and into nature for new growth and extended learning. Prior to departure, for four to ten consecutive Friday afternoons (varies by grade level and itinerary) all students participate in skill-acquisition and team-building programs. These expeditions do not necessarily involve bicycles. 
    Lower School students are involved in a two-year series of skill-building activities: ‘Trek’ for the sixth grade and self-contained ‘Bikes and BOB trailers’ for the seventh grade. 
    Upper School students have a choice of journey, traveling in small groups of mixed grades and ages on Backpacking, Mountaineering, Kayaking, or Advanced Bikes & "BOBs." Most students cycle and backpack in the Santa Barbara backcountry or across Catalina Island; kayakers paddle the Gaviota Coast and mountaineers climb Mount Whitney. 

    These expeditions are a keystone of our program. The classroom work culminates with a final journey: “Celebration and Completion–a Rite of Passage.” There are always two expeditions: an Upper and a Lower School journey. 
    In recent years, the Lower School Expedition has been mountain biking in Marin for ten days.
    The Upper School Expedition varies between 12-14 days and ventures out in alternating years to the Four Corners region in the Southwest or to Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, ending in Ashland for a Shakespearean experience.