The kids were more than alright. They were, as enthusiastic third-grader Jake Piña said, “Awesome.”
On Friday, January 22, that very sentiment was the resounding theme when the entirety of Harding Elementary School — all 600 preschool-through-sixth-grade students plus faculty and staff — docked ship at UCSB’s Corwin Pavilion to mark a very special occasion: the newly minted marriage between Harding and UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education. Although just a one-day field trip, the anchor was officially dropped as two very influential forces joined hands.
Last year, forced to face mandatory structural overhauls as a result of No Child Left Behind, Harding and the Santa Barbara School Board embarked on a rewarding, albeit potentially risky, journey. As opposed to the other options available — such as reinstating Harding as a charter school, having Harding run by a third party, or terminating a majority of Harding’s faculty and staff — the decision to ally with Gevirtz, as well as to create an International Baccalaureate (IB) Program Primary Years program, seemed to be the most student-, teacher-, and parent-friendly. Thus, the Harding University Partnership School was born.
Such curriculum camaraderie was more than evident at Friday’s event, officially dubbed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Signing Ceremony, by UCSB and Harding affiliates alike. Dr. Jane Close Conoley, Dean of Gevirtz, praised the partnership’s all-inclusiveness, likening it to a “full-court press,” given UCSB’s involvement on a multitude of levels.
As per the mission to offer Harding students a broader, more global-focused education (a cornerstone of the IB program) the partnership will, according to Conoley, not only allow Gevirtz faculty and graduate students to tutor those at Harding, but will also find ways to incorporate UCSB undergrads as well as other members of the campus community. Such a game plan will not only provide Harding students with mentors from a wide array of ethnic backgrounds and global perspectives, but will also aim to enhance the teaching abilities of the graduate students, said Conoley.
The ceremony echoed that mutually beneficial attitude, hosting numerous representatives from all the departments that made the dream of such a partnership a full-blown reality. Prior to a Harding-student led Pledge of Allegiance, Dr. Sally Kingston, Harding’s principal, offered her thanks to UCSB (her alma mater) for helping make the partnership happen, and stressed to her students both the value of an education and the importance of the partnership. “Education is the most incredible gift you will ever get,” she said. And just in case that failed to resonate, Kingston added, “Our school and UCSB are BFFs.”
UCSB graduate student teachers Karla Centeno and Veronica Ramos also made sure to impart the similarities between Harding students and college students, noting the shared importance of good study habits, good listening habits, and — most importantly — tenacity.
Furthering the bonds between the two schools, subsequent speaker Dr. Bob Nunez offered a bilingual thank-you to the parents of Harding students, the majority of whom are Hispanic. “Thanks for being the source of your child’s dreams,” he said.
Also present — to sign the MOU — were UCSB Chancellor Dr. Henry Yang, Superintendent of the Santa Barbara School District Dr. Brian Sarvis, Harding faculty representative Carol Schwyzer, Gevirtz faculty representative Dr. Willis Copeland, Harding student body president Natalie Jimenez, and Kingston.
Conoley, prior to her signing of the MOU, made sure the students knew what such a commitment means, declaring it a “promise to stick together until we make a big difference.”
Reveling in that collaborative focus was Tine Sloan, Gevirtz’s director of Teacher Education, calling the partnership and IB program a “new way of educating kids and supporting teachers.”
Harding parent Silvia Almanza — daughter Emily is in third grade, son Niko in second — is equally confident about the school’s revamping, largely because of her faith in Kingston. “She totally turned the school around. She’s a wonderful principal,” Almanza said.
Kingston herself is more a believer in the wonderful potential this “strong collaborative relationship” has to offer. Because Harding students will now be greatly “exposed to a myriad of role models who they relate to and aspire to be like,” their futures can be whatever they desire. “It will give students a unique opportunity to have a long view of their lives that will help to make learning more meaningful and more relevant,” Kingston said.
For now, Harding fifth graders Cristopher Saldana and Alondra Gatica — both students of the month — are excited. “This is really cool,” they said.