Almost a dozen AHA! boardmembers, students, and alumni showed up at Tuesday’s school board meeting to set the record straight after what they claim was a misleading news report by Noozhawk that suggested AHA!’s programs, which promote social-emotional development for junior high and high school students, were being dropped by the school district.
At the June 11 school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Frann Wageneck recommended discontinuing the $30,000 annual funding for the high school AHA’s Peace Builders program — which works with students to be mediators at school and home — and instead contracting with AHA! for social-emotional development training for school staff.
AHA! Executive Director Pilar Montoya clarified during her public comment [at this week’s meeting] that while funding is being shifted, the programs with AHA! are not being dropped but expanded. She mentioned after-school services and a five-week summer program and added that “more than 1,000 youth a year are being served by AHA!”
Several students and AHA! alumni also spoke during public comment and told the board how much the program meant to them. Almost all mentioned being introverted and pointed to the Peace Builders and AHA! for helping them come out of their shell and excel in high school and, for some, college. Gloria Sandoval, a 14-year-old Santa Barbara High sophomore, said AHA! helped her with her self-esteem and taught her coping mechanisms for her anxiety. “I can call them my new or second family,” she said.
While most commenters sang AHA!’s praises, Sheridan Rosenberg, a Fair Education member currently involved in a lawsuit with the district for its work with nonprofit Just Communities, asked the district to “stop bringing on unfettered nonprofits and bucketing money to them.”
While the district funds $30,000 a year for Peace Builders, AHA! fundraises more than $300,000 a year for Peace Builders and the other programs they offer to district youth, said Program Director Melissa Lowenstein.
Peace Builders will continue at Santa Barbara High, Dos Pueblos High, and the four junior high schools.