Tucked in the hills south of Santa Barbara lies Montecito Union School, a top-ranking public school widely recognized for its scholastic achievements and successful programs. The curriculum boasts an award- winning visual arts program, developed by resident teacher Allison Atwill, which provides high-quality art classes to children, kindergarten through sixth grade.
After learning that a parent volunteer had adopted this award-winning program model and brought it to the poor- est performing Title I school in Santa Barbara, a group of individuals were inspired to take action. Santa Barbara resident Jim Kearns was involved with two good friends, Ed Rossi and Amy Schneider, who were managing a donor-advised fund at the time.
They were introduced to Kathi Scarminach, the parent volunteer who had created an “art on a cart” program for students, using recycled materi- als and donated supplies. The group agreed to support Kathi’s efforts by paying for her salary, a full-time assistant, and all art equipment and materials. With-in one year, the pilot program received dramatic and positive support from members of the school faculty and community, which led to the development of a standardized model.
Talk of expansion and repli- cation among other schools en- couraged the once anonymous group of supporters to establish the Incredible Children’s Art Network (iCAN) in 2005, with a mission to bring high-quality arts programs to children in Santa Barbara, particularly those least likely to receive them.
Within Santa Barbara Unified School District, six out of ten elementary sites qualify as Title I schools on the free or reduced lunch program. These campuses serve a population of predomi- nantly Latino families with an average of 78 percent English Language Learners. The group identified these six Title I schools as the sites most in need of qual- ity programming, yet the least likely to receive such programs.
Today, iCAN’s programs reach over 3,200 students across those six most underserved schools in Santa Barbara. A music program was also created in 2010, follow- ing a renowned music-based, social movement in Venezuela, known as El Sistema.
While these expansions are significant, the growth of a powerful community network is arguably the most remark- able element of the nonprofit’s evolution. iCAN proudly exists as a community organization, strengthened by parents, educa- tors, and community leaders.
The group’s vision came to life through the establishment of a successful organization found- ed on the support and resources of a much larger network. This network will continue to deepen and expand in tandem with the organization through commu- nity and individual support.