Santa Barbara’s Attitude. Harmony. Achievement. organization, also known as AHA!, promotes social-emotional learning among junior and high school students. Founded in 1999, the small but mighty nonprofit educates on personal growth topics not traditionally taught on campus, including responsibility, resilience, and optimism. After school, throughout the summer, and in the classroom, AHA! also uses interactive approaches to encourage team-building and connection.

An AHA! initiative called Peace Builders was recently expanded into four junior high schools — Santa Barbara, La Colina, La Cumbre, and Goleta Valley — after receiving a grant from the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara. The Peace Builders program consists of interactive workshops and bimonthly meetings that promote camaraderie in the classroom as well as empathy and curiosity among students and their peers, said Melissa Lowenstein, Programs Coordinator and Facilitator. “The idea is that we really want to empower the kids and have it be their program.”

Considering the sharp political and cultural divisions now fracturing the country, AHA! feels needed now more than ever. By helping students understand the root causes of hate speech, bullying, and stereotypes, and how to combat instances of exclusion with a calm perspective, the program is preparing them for real-world scenarios. “We encourage the kids to be curious, not oppositional,” said Lowenstein. David Cash, former superintendent of the Santa Barbara Unified School District, was a big fan of the Peace Builders program: “AHA! Peace Builders isn’t just a home run … It’s a grand slam!”

AHA! is searching for new students — ninth grade and up — to join the upcoming fall program, which includes initial training this summer then takes place during lunch time throughout the school year. Enroll online here.


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