Time for Santa Barbara's Junior High Shuffle

Junior High. The much anticipated pubescent siphon into "middle school". Every sixth grader and every parent of a sixth grader is talking about it. Not only talking but
interviewing schools and visiting campuses all over town.

Last February I visited two campuses. La Colina Junior High and Santa Barbara Junior High. I visited La Colina after sending the principal, Mr. Ortiz an email and receiving a
response and a phone call within an hour. His promptness impressed me. Hint: email the principal directly and ask for a personal tour. That let's them know your committed.

Two days after my first email I was on the campus of La Colina heading for the principals office. Now a days this thought does not freak me quite the way it used to, but I still get a buzz.

Mr. Ortiz greeted me with a kind and buoyant energy. He is a direct man. Full of compassion and thoughtful encouragement. His pride in his school shows in his daily fashion choice, usually a very crisp bright Hawaiian shirt, transmitting his bright spirit. The staff and faculty shine. The respect he receives spans the county. He does not have a great budget (thanks Arnold). Yet the school does not seem to suffer. In fact it thrives. The school is energetically alive. A calm coolness pervades the campus from the driveway through the sprawling campus.

I explain to Mr. Ortiz my son has had a particularly hard Sixth grade year. My son had a sixth grade teacher that could try the most patient heart. He taught my son one great and invaluable lesson. "Know thy self". My son has gained strength in himself as a boy becoming a man. For that we are grateful. It was a heartfelt year. My son has met his biological father once. Therefore all men are his example. A position I think any male teacher should take to heart.

The search for the right Junior High is an education in itself. Be mindful and respectful, but be willing to say what you have to say and do what you have to do, to get your child what they need. If your child has learning challenges, do not let your pride get in their way. Have integrity and stand up for them. Junior High is like the lobby in the hotel of higher education. It is where all the choices are. They have two years here and are very focused.

Ask for the IEP testing if you haven't already and feel there may be a need for modifications. There is no shame in modifications and it can help. A well-constructed Individual Education Plan (IEP) can make the difference between an "F" and a "B". Between social, psychological and educational oblivion and a safe sane integration of social modules and a solid safe tool box from which to learn. Kids are sponges.
Let these almost-adult sponges drink "thick" of a quality education. Let them have all the opportunities to find all that is best in themselves. A well-thought, well-planned IEP will insure this. It will save their sanity and yours.

My tour at La Colina had all but convinced me that this was the place we needed to be. The teachers and classrooms had an easy way about them. Everyone was busy but they did not look stressed or overwhelmed.

I showed up the following Monday to the first "Transfer Meeting". This is the time when all the parents come from all the "feeder" schools and get their applications completed. This is only necessary if you are not in the schools district
and would like to attend the school. The accepted feeder schools (elementary schools that "feed" into the junior high)range from Carpinteria to North Goleta. If you are not in their district, I would contact the school as soon as possible to start the process.

Should you choose a school outside of your school district, you will have to go to the school in your district and get a signed transfer from the principal. You must do this
before applying to the school you would like to go to. School administrators are adamant (rightfully so, so respect it) about this step in the process. Get the transfer first and don't waste their time.

My son has been very keen for me to "be open to Santa Barbara Junior High.
Mom, what a cool campus and Mom.. MOM!...look at the theatre! Come on Mom!" he begged and pleaded.I promised I would tour the school. I promised my son
I would have an open mind. I do not tell him, I am scared of possible violence at or around the school. I do not mention my memories of walking around caution tape on State Street for three days in March 2007, because a child accidentally murdered another child.

A few days later I am on the campus of Santa Barbara Junior High. I had been to the school days before to see Rufus Wainwright perform at the beautiful Marjorie Luke Theatre.I was struck by the sheer splendor of the campus that night. An elegant renovation has preserved the timeless architecture. It has the feeling of
an East Coast Prep School, with palm trees.

As I walk up to the door on this unusually warm pre-spring morning, I smell Eucalyptus. It reminds me of my school days at St. Monica's. I am affected and in fact transported.
I used to love the smell of Eucalyptus,clear pink erasers and crayons all mixed up.

I am very warmly welcomed by staff. The Resource Department Head,Kirsten, has emailed me and asked me to bring a copy of my sons IEP. She is tall, very earnest and easy to talk to. She spends enough time with me for me to know, this gal is on her game! She is passionate and a straight shooter. When I observe the classrooms I see the teachers she works with are extremely dedicated and focused.

Some moments later we meet with the principal, Mr. Becchio. Together they quickly and very effectively give me the essentials. They have reviewed my son's file and have answers. They waste no time in expressing their position and their strengths as a school. Kirsten excuse herself and Mr. Becchio and I begin our tour of the school. As we stand talking in the hall in front of the theatre the bell rings. Students flock to their next class. I am struck by Mr.Becchio's purposeful attention to two boys. He takes a half step and a turn to face them as they are walking by. He makes discreet yet very exact eye contact with both boys. Each boy shares a handshake and a smile with Mr.
Becchio. He let's them know he is there for them. It was an act of honor and respect. Much like a sensei with his deshi. Something my perception tells me may not exist in these boys every day life outside school. This man is an honorable man. Clean, clear and focused.

We continue the tour visiting classrooms, observing teachers and students. There is an energy in this school.The energy tells me, "it is OK to be different here:everybody
is different here." The science, art and wood shop are immaculate wide open rooms with high ceilings and lots of light and air. Like the Grinch, my heart is growing for this school. My mind is opening. I think my son may have a point. Santa Barbara Junior High possesses the rare quality of a spiritual center that is about and for the kids. And the kids know it. For seven hours a day they are the focus of some of the coolest teachers I have ever met. I think the teachers at SBJH have figured out a way to be educators and spirit guides, who morph into whatever the kids need at any given moment. These teachers have way more fun than I can ever remember having in school.
The students in turn are passionate and bright.
Aware and conscious of their community and the world.

This chore of picking the best Junior High has to be kept
in proper perspective. "What is best for the child?" "Where
will the child thrive?" "Where will the child's needs be met?"
The concerns in all fairness cannot be for personal or social placement of the parent. It should not be to keep your child away from some aspect of the world. It is a world filled with all kinds of people and this world is getting smaller. Better to learn how to face every type of nature in mankind. This is after all, about the child. All too often I hear parents comparing themselves through their children. I have to tell on myself and say I have done it. Being mindful is absolutely necessary here.

Being a good parent is about being and staying open to any and every possibility and opportunity that may benefit the child. Being a balanced and considerate advocate.

We landed, quite happily, in Santa Barbara Junior High.
My son has six A's on his report card this semester. He is thriving. I sit on the Site Council and the PTSA as well as regularly attending Climate Meetings. SBJH just received $70,000 from The Santa Barbara Women's Fund for the CORE program. The CORE program is for "at-risk" students who might not otherwise get the attention they need to get a sound educational base and advance to High School and College. Some of the kids at SBJH live in extraordinary living situations. The diversity of culture and family income is as wide as the universe. From kids who live in Montecito surrounded by wealth and all that that implies. To kids who live in multi family dwellings, sometimes three or four families in one home. All of this exists at this school.
And the school in turn strategically turns it's attention to what is most important, getting these kids the best education possible. The state budgets are "slimming" and people who have already given to education are being asked to give again.
The legacy of education is that important.

So you see, I am a student too.
Right now I am in Junior High.
Ee gads! What to wear!

La Colina Jr. High
Grades Served: 7-8
Address: 4025 Foothill Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93110
Phone: (805) 967-4506Fax: (805) 967-3056
Principal: Mr. David Ortiz
School Mascot: Comets
School Colors: Green and White
Web Page:

Santa Barbara Junior High
Grades Served: 7-8
Address: 721 East Cota Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93103
Phone: (805) 963-7751Fax: (805) 962-7196
Principal: Mr. John Becchio
School Mascot: CondorsSchool Colors: Blue and White
Web Page:

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