This month at OVS

August 25 – Next week, Ojai Valley School will begin classes and launch into what promises to be an exciting and enriching 2014/15 academic year. We will welcome many new students, and a few new teachers, to our community. The high school will celebrate 50 years at the Upper Campus. During the year students will move into new boys’ dorm at the Upper Campus and at the Lower Campus we will cheer the completion of our new art studio and renovated Founder’s Shop.

We will continue to update families as we make final preparations for the opening of school. As a reminder, registration and check-in for new and returning high school students will take place on Sunday, August 31, and registration for primary, elementary and middle school students will take place on Monday, September 1.

A full schedule is available on the website under the Parents tab , as well as summer reading requirements, the Student Handbooks, and camping and classroom supply lists. Please make sure the required health and registration forms sent by our Admissions Office have been completed before the start of school.

Alumni Share Insights on their OVS Experiences

Alumni across the generations share insights on their OVS experiences
By Tracy Wilson

Last winter the Alumni Office conducted an online survey to learn more about how alumni prefer to receive information from the school, and to gather testimonials about the strengths and memorable aspects of the OVS experience.

Alumni ages 18-66+ participated with the highest number of responses coming from alumni ages 56-66 and ages 66 and older. Respondents indicated that they are most interested in hearing stories and receiving updates about other alumni. They are also interested the hearing campus news, information about alumni events, and updates on facility improvements.

Responses about how they want to receive those updates varied. Most alumni who participated in the survey said they preferred to receive news through e-newsletters from the Alumni Office. The OVS website and alumni Facebook pages were also popular forms of communication. Several alums commented that social media and technology have made it easier to stay connected. But many respondents said they preferred traditional print publications, such as Alumni Notes and Family Tree.

Across the generations, survey respondents echoed common themes about their most memorable OVS experiences. They shared colorful narratives about camping trips, hijinks, enduring friendships, and lessons learned inside and outside the classroom.

Alumni wrote eloquently about the relationships formed with teachers, coaches, and dorm parents who influenced their lives, including “the inspired teaching of Otis Wickenhaeuser,” “the quiet but firm leadership of Wallace Burr,” and the patient way Joe Singleton “taught you about horses, from one end to the other.”

Learning to be independent, learning to write and think critically, learning to respect people from different cultures and backgrounds were common responses to questions about the greatest strengths and values of an OVS education.

“I think OVS allowed me to grow,” wrote alum Paul Donlon, co-chair of the Alumni Council. “Some of the growth was in the classroom, some on the athletic fields, some in the backcountry, and some living with the decisions I made. All of them created good memories.”

Lower Campus alum Jerry Shotditt summed up her most memorable experiences as “Camping, camping, and camping.” Indeed camping and outdoor education were the most common responses to this question, with alumni offering anecdotes about moonlit hikes in the Sespe and adventures on the trail with trip leaders like J.B. Close and Mike Hermes.

One overarching theme emerged from the survey: Alumni stated that the close relationships they formed with friends and the lessons taught by exceptional teachers influenced who they are today.

“The greatest strength of my OVS education was what characterizes the greatest strength of all good education,” wrote alum Terry Berne, “teaching students how to solve problems and think for themselves in an atmosphere that allows close interaction between teachers and students, and that has little to do with simply learning facts about a particular subject.”

“As often happens, it is only in hindsight that I fully appreciated the extraordinary experience of OVS that shaped so much of the person I’ve become,” wrote alum Kenan Block. “The beauty of living surrounded by such stunning nature is something special and rare that few other schools offer. The small size of the school and close friendships of our classmates made it like one big unlikely family all together for four years, learning about life and the world in a magical setting. The small classes, engaged, creative, caring teachers who always pushed us gave us a first-rate education.”

Ceramics Teacher Opens her Studio to OVS Faculty and Staff


Ceramics teacher Jody Cooper instructs alum Belle Cook during an evening ceramics class.

Ceramics Teacher Jody Cooper Opens her Studio to OVS Faculty and Staff

By Daphne Psaledakis, Class of 2015

It’s 6:30 in the evening at the Upper Campus and ceramics teacher Jody Cooper is in her element.

Tucked into her studio just off to the side of the headmaster’s residence, she is busy giving after-hours instruction. She helps one student trim a bowl, then moves to another and places her hands over theirs to help mold a mug. She moves on to teach another how to properly glaze a ceramic cup produced after several hours of class work.


Pre-kindergarten teacher Linda Gartrell is among the OVS faculty members who’ve taken ceramics this past spring and summer at the Upper Campus.

But this class is different from all her others.

Two nights a week, Ojai Valley School staff and faculty members from both the Upper and Lower campuses trickle into her classroom and take up posts at the wheels.

Since the start of the year, and through the summer months, Cooper has been donating her time and supplies to teach her colleagues about her passion and profession, extending an invitation to any who are interested in learning the basics of her craft.

Takers have come from all over. They have included bus drivers and kitchen workers, primary and elementary teachers, and barn managers and other equestrian staff.

“Class, for me, is an opportunity to not only feed my artistic soul but a great social activity too,” said Jen Konz, a barn manager at the Upper Campus who began taking the after-hours ceramics class in March.

“I get to spend time with other faculty that I would normally not have a chance to hang out with very much,” she added. “It’s always fun and we laugh a lot. Cooper is really fun and quite patient with everyone asking questions and needing guidance.”

The class began when an art teacher at the Lower Campus wanted to introduce ceramics to her younger students, and asked Cooper to teach her the fundamentals.

Since then, Cooper has mentored dozens of OVS employees, using the same hands-on approach she uses with her high school students. During the summer, she is holding sessions for as many as 11 students, spread over two nights each week.

“I love ceramics, and I love sharing it with people,” Cooper said. “Both [high school and adult students] are great. I think they all appreciate it, but I think the adults appreciate it more, because they’re not in school. It’s just something they get to do.”

Cooper is a master ceramicist and has studied under some of the best. She has been teaching ceramics at OVS for 14 years, and her curriculum derives from her knowledge and experience as a professional in the craft. Her high school students start with small projects like rattles and pinch pots, then steadily progress to using the wheel and more difficult and impressive projects.

It’s different for the adults. They go directly to working on the wheel in sessions that are filled with questions and laughter, and that can last upwards of two hours.

On a recent evening, she and Moises Ferrel, a member of Upper’s kitchen staff, worked together to shave off clay from the bottom of a bowl. She leaned in next to him, placing her hands over his, guiding them as they shaped the clay.

“Every once in a while, stop and feel it,” Cooper told him. “If it’s starting to give, it’s getting too thin.”

As she’s instructing Ferrel, equestrian instructor and OVS alum Caitlin Black vies for her help with a piece on the wheel.

“I completely get how my beginning horseback riders are [now],” Black says of her own frustrations learning something that looks so easy to do, but is so hard to execute.

Then off Cooper goes to fix another problem.

“Mrs. Cooper is an amazing teacher,” said OVS transportation director Julie Cook, who has been taking this class since March and who sometimes brings her daughter, alum Belle Cook, along. “I’m inspired to create something I thought I never would. I feel really fortunate to be able to do this.”

For many of the class members, the evenings spent in Cooper’s classroom are a retreat from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives, an opportunity for them to be creative, social and hone a newfound skill.

“It’s like therapy for me, I go there and I forget about everything else,” Ferrel said. “As long as they have the class, I’ll be there.”

The class has been so successful that Cooper’s students have joined together and bought clay from her to work with over the summer. She has promised to label the clay with their names and set it aside for them to work with when they meet during their regular class or in their free time.

Count fifth grade teacher Michele Floyd among the ceramics converts.

She plans to utilize a portion of her designated clay by spending time in the studio with her son Connor Floyd, who took Cooper’s class this year.

“At the end of the day when I feel like I’m really tired and can’t do anything else, it’s really fun,” said Floyd, who has been in the class for about six weeks. “We don’t talk about work. We giggle, we laugh, and I can’t believe how much better I’ve gotten in such a short period of time.”

Solar One Year Later


By Tracy Wilson
Director of Admission & Marketing

A year ago, OVS environmental science teacher John Wickenhaeuser looked across the array of deep blue solar panels gleaming in the late morning sun at the Upper Campus and imagined the future cost savings and future lesson plans the new solar array would provide students across the grade levels. A year later the project has exceeded those expectations, generating 96% of the electricity at the high school campus.

It has also served as a learning lab, with third-graders discovering the science behind solar, and high school AP Environmental Science students advancing their understanding of alternative energy sources.

From statistics lessons to physics labs, the solar project was envisioned as just this — a combination of smart business practices as well as an educational tool for OVS students for years to come. Now, classroom studies include real-time monitoring of the energy produced by the 1,001 panels that now cover 19,016 square feet of hillsides and rooftops at the Upper Campus. After the first week of production last spring, Wickenhaeuser’s students had already calculated that the system had saved 11,974 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions, or about the weight of an African elephant. Since then, the system has saved nearly 150 tons of CO2 emissions, or roughly the weight of  30 full grown elephants.

“We’ve always been a progressive school, and we’ve always been about caring for the environment,”
Wickenhaeuser said. “This really demonstrates the school’s commitment to those principles.”

Across the nation, solar power has become a hot topic.

Photovoltaic power systems are proliferating in response to lower installation costs, incentives, and greater awareness. University researchers, most notably at several University of California campuses, are now developing new technologies to improve efficiency and storage of solar power, as well as more futuristic enterprises. UC Berkeley researchers and students, for example, are developing solar cars, while UCLA researchers are building solar cells with near transparency to create a solar panel that looks like a tinted window.

Similarly, Ojai Valley School leaders saw a bright future in solar – from both an educational and a business perspective.

The project was launched in 2013 in partnership with HelioPower and Southern California Edison. It cost $1.5 million, but the school spent much less after taking advantage of grants and rebates. At a time when energy costs are increasing in California – 12% in the last two years – the project also allowed the school to fix a portion of its energy costs.

The system was designed to supply 85% of the electrical demand for the OVS Upper Campus, saving more than $64,000 a year in energy costs and reducing the school’s annual carbon footprint by an estimated 299,000 pounds. In it’s first year it produced 18% more power than the design specification. With planned additional energy efficiency measures and greater conservation awareness, the school hopes to move close to 100% renewable energy in coming years.

“The solar project continues the school’s commitment to sustainability and preservation of our natural resources,” OVS President Michael J. Hall-Mounsey said. “The school has taken a bold step to reduce its environmental impact and demonstrate that sustainable practices will be a cornerstone of the school experience as we enter our second century.”

Located on 195 acres at the end of Reeves Road, the Upper Campus provides an ideal location for solar. In addition to its hilltop buildings, the campus has a wide south-facing slope to capture the sun’s rays. The slope must be cleared annually for fire protection so adding panels posed no disruption to native plants or wildlife.

Construction on the project began in October 2012 and finished in March 2013 with the addition of 288 rooftop panels on Burr Hall, the boys’ dormitories and the Head of School’s house, as well as 713 ground-mounted panels on the hillside between the boys’ dorms and the Lucila Arango Science and Technology Center. The system went “live” on May 7, 2013.

“We have the space, we have the land, we have the southern exposure so we could take advantage of that clean source of energy,” said Carl S. Cooper, Head of School at the Upper Campus. “At the same time, we are increasing our consciousness about where our energy comes from when we turn on a switch and turn off a switch.”

Ojai Valley School made a decision on the eve of its centennial, to create and chart a sustainability course for the next 100 years and beyond. Those efforts have received wide recognition, including the prestigious 2011 California Waste Reduction Award Program (WRAP) and the 2009 Ojai Chamber of Commerce “Environmentally Conscious Business of the Year” award.

In April 2013, the County of Ventura recognized OVS with a Climate Change Action Award, an honor given annually to individuals, businesses, schools, and other groups in the county that have made significant contributions to combat climate change.

The award recognized the solar project but also the broader effort by students, faculty and staff to reduce campus-wide electrical use and promote environmental stewardship. Those efforts include adopting comprehensive recycling programs and water-efficient irrigation systems, retrofitting lights with energy-efficient bulbs, and planting drought-tolerant and native plants on both campuses. The school also partners with local farmers, including Friends Ranch, to provide local produce in its dining halls.

“OVS has made sustainable practices a cornerstone of the school experience for students, teachers and staff,” said Mac Lojowsky, OVS Director of Facilities and Grounds. “It affects all aspects of their lives and by definition it will influence how they live their lives beyond the school.”

Most importantly, school leaders say, is the way Ojai Valley School incorporates environmental education into its curriculum – from earth science in pre-kindergarten to AP Environmental Science  – so students understand their role in preserving and protecting the planet.

“There is a constant message, going right on through from Pre-K to high school graduation, about how we take care of the planet,” Cooper said.

Raising students’ understanding of alternative energy sources is one aspect of the AP Environmental Science class. Wickenhaeuser’s students examine the economic, social, cultural, and political aspects of environmental science. This year, they will examine solar technology and the role alternative energy plays in communities locally and globally.

The monitoring tools at their fingertips include online monitoring and analysis tools report the production of each segment of the system in 5-minute increments. Students can see how production changes by the orientation of the individual solar arrays, the weather, and they can even see how a passing cloud temporarily decreases the system’s production. They can also compare energy output from various locations on campus.

Over the past year, Wickenhaeuser has checked the site frequently to track the school’s solar production. That is how he noticed one solar array on Tower dorm was producing less than those on the hillside and other rooftops in early July. Why? Morning and afternoon shade from trees near the dorm reduced production on those panels by 4 kilowatts per hour. That is not a significant amount. But it is the kind of real-life problem-solving exercise that he plans to have his students tackle.

For his part, Wickenhaeuser will continue be looking skyward.

“The funny thing is,” he said, “Now I am torn between rooting for much needed rain, and for sunny days!”

Summer Fun

Ojai Valley School concluded its 72nd summer camp with a flourish in August. More than 260 campers from around the world participated in this year’s program, which included a record-high enrollment in both the Equestrian and ESL programs.

Campers and families can follow the OVS Summer Camp Facebook page for updates on plans for summer 2015. Camp photos may also be viewed on the camp photos page.

The Ojai Valley School Summer Camp thanks you for a fabulous six weeks of fun!

Thumbs Up Grads

Our youngest grads walked the stage for kindergarten graduation and primary promotion. See photos on the Images of OVS page.

College Bound

college pic

The Class of 2014 earned acceptances to an impressive list of schools, ranging from small liberal arts colleges to Ivy League universities.

May 4 — Our college bound seniors proudly wore their college sweatshirts and t-shirts last week during College Swag Day,  a fun new tradition at the Upper Campus that celebrates the May 1 national reply date when most colleges require a commitment from the students they’ve accepted. Brown, Columbia, Northeastern, NYU, Pitzer College, King’s College London, St. Andrews University in Scotland, California College of the Arts, Chapman University, Whittier College, Boston University, Colorado State, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo are among the diverse schools our seniors have chosen to attend.

We are exceptionally proud of their accomplishments, as well as their hard work in preparing their college applications. It’s an impressive list of schools, ranging from small liberal arts colleges to big Ivy League universities. But more importantly it is a list that reflects the interests, talents, and diversity of this soon-to-be graduating class. We encourage students to seek out that “right fit” school when applying to college, and to consider what best suits them in terms of school size, geography, programs and campus community. Our seniors have spent a year working alongside College Counselor Laura Boismenue in pursuit of finding the right fit, and we are confident most have found it for the coming years. Check out her College Blog for more details on OVS College Counseling.

But while the decisions have been made, there is still much work ahead for our seniors, juniors and sophomores who tackle Advanced Placement tests between May 5-15. Starting this week, 51 students at the Upper Campus will take 154 AP exams in 15 subject areas. The AP exams are administered over a two-week period and represent the culmination of college-level work in a given discipline in a secondary school setting. Students who perform well can receive course credit or advanced standing at thousands of universities worldwide. We wish our students success on these exams and ask parents, staff, and students to be thoughtful and supportive of the test-takers during this challenging time.

SAT Subject Tests

Should you take SAT II Subject Tests?  The short answer is: it depends.
First, what are SAT II Subject Tests (commonly referred to as “Subject Tests”)?  Here’s a good summary on what the Subject Tests are (directly from their website):
Subject Tests are hour-long, content-based tests that allow you to showcase achievement in specific subject areas where you excel. These are the only national admission tests where you choose the tests that best showcase your achievements and interests.
SAT Subject Tests allow you to differentiate yourself in the college admission process or send a strong message regarding your readiness to study specific majors or programs in college. In conjunction with your other admission credentials (your high school record, SAT scores, teacher recommendations, etc.), they provide a more complete picture of your academic background and interests.
Some colleges also use Subject Tests to place students into the appropriate courses. Based on your performance on the test(s), you could potentially fulfill basic requirements or receive credit for introductory-level courses.
There are 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas: English, history, languages, mathematics and science.
So, by the College Board’s assessment, Subject Tests give you an advantage in the admission process.  But, as the owners of the test, they are highly biased.
The reality is that most colleges don’t require Subject Tests nor take them into consideration in determining one’s admissibility.  Some colleges will require or recommend that you take certain Subject Tests (usually ones that align with the major that the student is planning to study).  Also, for some colleges, foreign language Subject Tests can assist in advanced placement in that language in college courses.
So, to determine which Subject Tests, if any, you should plan to take, research those colleges that you are most interesting applying to.  In considering the colleges on your prospective list (OVS Juniors build a list called “Colleges I’m Thinking About” on Naviance), you should visit the admission website and/or contact those school’s admission offices to investigate if they require or recommend certain Subject Tests (which are essentially the same; if they “recommend” a Subject Test- you take it!).
A quick call or email to a college admission office will answer this question.  For example, here’s information from UCSB’s admission site about SAT Subject tests (middle of the page, called “Examination Requirement”):

Outdoor Education


Middle School students camped, hiked and explored swimming holes in the mountains north of Ojai in May.

Continuing a long tradition at Ojai Valley School, middle school students in grades 6-8 ventured in to the wilderness for their spring backpacking trips. Students hiked and camped in the Sespe and Dick Smith Wilderness areas north of Ojai and Santa Barbara. They worked as team members to carry and filter water, to cook over a campfire, and to share experiences in the outdoors.

Spring backpacking is a key component of the OVS Outdoor Education program. Students develop leadership, perseverance, organization, and good communication. They also learn to manage risks. Those can include summoning the courage to leap off a rock into a shimmering swimming hole, or coping with an itchy case of poison oak. But above all, these memorable experiences teach students the importance of the environment and what it means to be good stewards of our natural resources.

Our youngest campers in first and second grades will develop their outdoor skills during one-night camping adventures at the Lower Campus and nearby Lake Casitas, while their counterparts at the high school depart for a horse camping trip near Santa Barbara and a fly fishing trip to the eastern Sierras.

At Ojai Valley School, we strive to develop the intellectual and personal growth of all of our students – and Outdoor Education is a core part of that experience. The Outdoor Education program on both campuses introduces students, grades K-12, to the stunning mountains, canyons, deserts, and beaches in the West, while teaching students how to respect and care for our fragile environment.

Click here to see pictures from the 2014 Spring Backpacking trips at Lower Campus.

Blue Ribbon Weekend for Equestrian Team

equestrianIt was a blue-ribbon weekend for the OVS equestrian team as our students rode away with top honors in show jumping and dressage at the US Pony Club Mega Rally at Hansen Dam equestrian center in Sylmar, the largest gathering of Pony Club members in the Camino Real Region. The rally also served as the show jumping and dressage qualifier for the national championships to be held in Kentucky this July.

OVS show jumping team of Leila Giannetti (team captain), Maya Mullins, Mattie White, Amy Xu (L11), and Emma Gustafson (stable manager) were the overall champions in horse management and won 1st place in show jumping.

“Although this was the first mounted rally for the group, meticulous preparation beforehand and fabulous teamwork on arrival at the show grounds allowed the students to successfully decode the rally format and completely care for their mounts and themselves without the assistance of teachers or parents,” said Equestrian Director Stephanie Gustafson. “Leila proved to be a wonderful captain, leading by example with a positive, supportive attitude. Emma made sure all was in order in the barn and that each rider was on time for inspections, rides and safety checks. There were 30 individual appointments in all. Camaraderie and a can-do attitude kept the group focused and positive throughout the two days.”

In addition to those wins, senior Sophia Wu participated in a scramble dressage team that won first place in dressage. Sisters Lilly and Emmy Hilgers were among the OVS participants and their scramble team tied for horse management champions.

We’d like to thank equestrian instructors Stephanie Gustafson, Emily Tinsen, and Krista Watt as well as parent volunteers Dana White, Brooke Giannetti, and Josephine Axt for their support!

Follow this link to learn more about the OVS Equestrian Program.

Copyright © 2014 · Ojai Valley School · 723 El Paseo Rd. · Ojai, CA 93023
Lower Campus     (tel) 805.646.1423     ·     Upper Campus     (tel) 805.646.5593
Made in Boulder Creek, CA