Students Cross Interdisciplinary Borders with Watershed Project

September 10, 2014 – Environmental science, literature, physical education, outdoor education, commerce, economics, and ancient history are some of the main ingredients to Ryan Lang’s exploration of the local watershed. This year log project takes sixth grade students on an adventure through our local ecosystem where they travel through time to get a glimpse of what life and the Ojai Valley was like for the Chumash Indians who settled the land thousands of years before Europeans made their way across the great oceans of the world.

Survival is a topic of constant discussion while the students are out on location around the Ojai Valley exploring the differences between modern day water usage and the one-with-nature perspective held by our ancestors.

Ryan Lang’s watershed curriculum is highly complimented by Vanessa Herrera’s sixth-grade reading list that includes the Newbury Award winning young adult’s novel “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. Under Mr. Lang’s guidance, the students practice survival techniques they learned while reading the story of thirteen year old Brian Robeson who faces life or death in the Northern Wilderness. Brian is the sole survivor of a plane crash, carrying nothing but the clothes on his back and a hatchet.   Following in the footsteps of Brian, students work together to create shelter structures and build tools out of natural resources, all while learning how to be aware of one’s physical surroundings.

As the students return back into modern day, they follow the watershed to Friend’s Ranch, where the bigger picture is unveiled; how does the natural water system effect agriculture, economy and commerce? A tour of the citrus packing house at Friend’s Ranch reinforces the concept of water conservation as they’re educated about the cost of water usage and the business practices that take the citrus from the orchards to distribute in our local and international supermarkets.

Ryan Land & 6th Grade

watershed hatchet

Lower Campus Residents Enjoy a Fun-Filled First Weekend



September 10, 2014 — It was a great first week in the dormitory for our youngest resident students at the Lower Campus. We are thrilled to welcome such a wonderful group of  genuinely nice kids, who are quickly understanding that we are one big happy family here at OVS!

While their 89 high school counterparts at the Upper Campus prepped for fall camping trips,  the 29 residents in grades 5-8 at Lower Campus became acclimatized to dorm living. That is really what the first week is about — getting oriented to OVS and getting to know each other well. As such, the week was full of name games, dodge ball, gaga, tennis, pool time, and our first study hall. Everyone is learning the ropes and getting acquainted with each other.

On Friday night, we started the weekend out with the Back to School Social at the pool for day and resident students. It was fun for all that joined in with great snacks and goodies from our kitchen. The residents had sleepovers in their friends’ rooms and enjoyed a nice sleep-in on Saturday morning. Then it was off to Ventura for some shopping, followed by town time and recreational swimming in the afternoon.

Saturday evening we all walked to the Besant Meadows for an evening hike on a beautiful Ojai night!

Sunday we were off for a tour of Ojai and then to Ventura Marina Park and Beach for the afternoon. We played soccer, zip lined, swam, walked around the marina, played Frisbee, and just enjoyed the day!

High School Students Venture to Eastern Sierras

rainbow fallsSeptember 10, 2014 — Our Upper Campus students departed on Monday for Rock Creek in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, just northwest of Bishop. Their first two days have been filled with hiking excursions to Rainbow Falls, Mono Lake, and lakes in the stunning John Muir Wilderness. They’ve also enjoyed some relaxation time in camp and at the hot springs near Mammoth Lakes. We look forward to posting a full gallery of pictures from the trip next week. The students return to campus on Friday.

Next Up: Our Middle School students will depart for their fall camping trips on September 22. The seventh and eighth graders will leave on Monday for their traditional trips to Hume Lake and Santa Cruz Island. The sixth graders will depart on Tuesday for Montana Del Oro State Park on the central coast. Elementary students will head out on their trips on October 8. Be sure to visit the Outdoors section of the website to see the full list of upcoming trips and for the outdoor equipment lists.

2014/15 School Year Opens

Seeking wild and unusual ideas . . .

That’s exactly what OVS teachers did during a two-day workshop prior to the opening of school

By Karen Morse
Head of School, Lower Campus

September 10, 2014 — Colleges and universities screen essays and applications for it.  Corporations are desperately seeking it in their HR searches.  It’s the “highest form of mental functioning, “ wrote psychologist and educator Dr. E. Paul Torrance.

But what is it?

It’s creativity – and OVS teachers and students have it!

There is a call in schools across the country to incorporate critical and creative thinking skills into the classroom. We have been teaching creatively for generations, and our current teachers are no strangers to making learning meaningful and engaging for students. But there is also more to learn, and with that in mind our teachers dove into the vast pool of research to refine their understanding of the nature of critical and creative thinking.

During a two-day workshop, faculty members were introduced to some of the 18 research-based creativity skills outlined by E. Paul Torrance using the Torrance Incubation Model (TIM) as a framework to build upon what we already do to deliberately engage students in creative thinking that further ignites interest while stretching students toward deeper learning.  The heuristic challenge of educating twenty-first century students is to enable them to make connections to their learning and discover meaning and purpose in each lesson.

Teachers spent part of the summer designing theme-based units intended to develop deep, flexible thinking in students. They then reviewed those units through the lens of TIM to ensure that each unit incorporated the skills learned during the workshop.

Throughout the training, our workshop leaders painted a picture of the desperate cry in the workplace for original, global thinkers who are also good communicators and collaborators.  We worked through two days of activities and examples of critical and creative thinking, and grappled with how to incorporate intentionally designed experiences that cause application of essential skills to create original ideas.

We also reviewed the student results of the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking to review our school-wide profile from spring assessments, and we analyzed results in order to learn ways of leveraging students’ strengths to support their individual growth.

Each participant walked away reinvigorated with a plethora of creative and novel catalysts to apply in classrooms, not only in the arts, but also in math, history, language arts, foreign language, and science.

It was our privilege to be in the company of our two knowledgeable presenters, Katie Haydon and David Eyman,.

Katie founded Ojai’s former Ignite Creative Learning Studio, a dynamic educational laboratory and think tank that provided exhilarating experiences for curious and creative children, many of whom headed to Ojai Valley School after Katie made her new home in New York.  Katie is also a published author and presenter at national conferences on creativity and gifted education.

As both a business professional and an industrial designer, David understands the multi-dimensional process that leads to innovation, from conceptualization and development, to planning and implementation.  It was fascinating to hear his perspective from a corporate environment.

Both Katie and David are pursuing a Masters of Science in Creative Studies at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State.

Our presenters were effusive in their compliments of OVS faculty in terms of their receptive nature. Katie summarized:  OVS teachers are primed to create classroom environments that support innovative, original thinking: they express freedom from judgment and view mistakes as pathways to new thinking and learning. They are open to wild and unusual ideas, and they use joy and humor to inspire.

Teachers are excited to nourish these new ideas that will extend this outlook of expanded thinking to each student who crosses the threshold of the classroom door.  As we further study the application of critical and creative thinking into all that we do, we expect to see a growing confidence in students as they demonstrate increased flexibility of thought, express greater fluency of ideas, and persevere to understand the value of original thinking.

Wonderful things are happening! Read more about creativity at

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.

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