Dr. Paul Wilt, founding father of Santa Barbara Christian School, a predecessor to today’s Providence School, passed into glory on June 23 at the age of 93. He is survived by his wife, Doris, and their four children: Tom, Marilyn, Janet, and Daniel, who were among the first generation of Santa Barbara Christian School students.
When Westmont College hired Dr. Wilt as a history professor in 1958, he began the search for a Christian school for his then three children. Finding no viable options, he drew on past experiences founding three Christian day schools in Pennsylvania to launch the effort to establish a Christian elementary school in Santa Barbara.
To gauge interest, Wilt wrote letters to 50-60 local pastors whose names he found in the Yellow Pages. He then formed a committee of like-minded parents and pastors and together they founded Santa Barbara Christian School in 1959.
The school opened for grades 1-6 at Alamar Four-Square Church (served by one of the pastors) in September 1960 with 60 students.
“The whole thing was his idea,” according to Mrs. Tirzah Riley, longtime Santa Barbara Christian School administrator and unofficial school historian. “He was horrified there was no real Christian school here and he needed one for his children.”
“He was modest and shy and not a born leader. But he just did what needed to be done for the sake of his children’s education. He set the philosophy and vision that lives on today.”
Riley, who met Dr. Wilt about 25 years after the school was founded, recalls him as “an amazing, humble servant. He was very precious with his children and wife. He lived the love of Christ.”
At the 2017 Providence commencement ceremony in 2017, Dr. Scott Lisea, head of school, recognized Paul and Doris Wilt, who were in attendance, and welcomed them to participate in the newly formed Board Emeriti recognition program. “Dr. Wilt gathered the first board of directors to begin Christian education in Santa Barbara,” Lisea said in expressing the school’s gratitude for Wilt’s vision and faithful service, “and he continued on as the board chairman for many years. That is the kind of person Paul is. His faith led him to glorify God for the good of his neighbors.”
Dr. Wilt and his fellow board members weathered many storms by God’s grace and provision as the school added classes and faculty and moved from one campus to another while developing a support base.
Wilt’s confidence in God’s providence and the vital necessity of the school’s mission never wavered. “It was something the Lord wanted us to do and he has blessed it, “ Wilt said matter-of-factly in a 2018 video interview.
“Many children and their parents have appreciated the education which they have received at Santa Barbara Christian School. …Your children are very important to you and therefore their proper education is very significant and you put a lot of emphasis on that.”
Dr. Wilt’s vision and passion for Christian education in Santa Barbara extended many years beyond his own family’s need for the school. In the same interview, he reflects “Now that the school is much larger… it is reaching out to more people with the promise of an education which is Christ-centered and which takes into account the accomplishments, if you will, of the Christian faith to people around the world.”
The founder of Santa Barbara Christian School remained a lifelong friend and supporter of what is now Providence School (after mergers with Providence Hall and El Montecito School).
Dr. Paul Wilt’s handprint is strongly imprinted on the school we enjoy today.
Providence’s Libertas Scholars Program introduces students to writers and ideas that have shaped our world. As the world drifts towards ever-expanding government solutions to problems (which are, more often than not, created by the very same government), students become ready to apply their humanities backgrounds and economic skills to critique ill-advised approaches to modern challenges and suggest constructive ideas of their own.
Travel to conferences
Last summer, the Libertas group traveled to Rapid City, South Dakota, for their first experience with FreedomFest, a national conference organized by economist Mark Skousen. It was a wonderful experience, rich with speakers and lively debates.
As another summer approaches, so does a return to FreedomFest, this year in Las Vegas July 13-16. With a lineup including comedian and actor John Cleese, former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, Forbes editor Steve Forbes, former presidential economics advisors Art Laffer and Stephen Moore, actor Ben Stein, writer Eric Metaxas, “Words and Numbers” podcaster James Harrigan, and Senator Rand Paul, this year’s FreedomFest offers a select group of Providence Libertas Scholars plenty of intellectual food for thought. Students will have many options at a buffet of over 200 speakers, movie shorts, debates, and discussions.
Participating in community events
As everything opened up this April, a group of Libertas Scholars attended the Reagan Ranch Center’s Ronald Reagan birthday bash with Dennis Quaid; a few weeks later, ten students took in a fact-filled defense of school choice by Corey DeAngelis at a YAF luncheon.
All Libertas Scholars have been engaged in reading, discussing, and writing about a series of books during the year, including (but not limited to!) Silence, by Shusaku Endo, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Jay Richards’ Money, Greed, and God, and Henry Hazlitt’s classic Economics in One Lesson. These four books taught students about the persecution of Christians in medieval Japan, life in a Soviet gulag, a Christian defense of free markets, and Hazlitt’s one simple lesson of economics, applied to a plethora of examples, written 70 years ago but just as relevant today.
As Mr. Jamie DeVries transitions to head this program during the 2022-23 school year, we anticipate a host of opportunities for students to learn how a deep understanding of the ideas of our Founders, combined with robust entrepreneurship, will help Providence students continue to vigorously promote human flourishing.
Bruce Rottman teaches humanities, economics, and government in the Upper School and is the founding director of the Libertas Honors Scholars Program.
According to the Literacy Project Foundation, “the average American is considered to have a readability level equivalent to that of a 7th/8th grader (12-14 years of age).” A national reading survey by Scholastic further reveals what is known as “Decline by Nine” wherein the percentage of children fitting the description of “frequent reader” (one who reads books for fun between five to seven days a week) drops from 57 percent of eight year olds to 35 percent of nine year olds. This trend continues into high school as students get busier with sports, jobs, and other pursuits. Furthermore, some schools and teachers have reduced the number of novels read or have stopped teaching the novel form altogether as they simply cannot get the students to finish reading them.
It seems to me that we are rapidly becoming a “CliffsNotes Culture,” literally throwing reading over the cliff, superficially discussing summaries of books in English class and writing papers by copying and pasting someone else’s generic analysis.
I am happy to report Providence graduates are countercultural, marching to the beat of their own snare drums as they develop literary acumen, one of the 16 “habits of the mind” described in the “Portrait of the Ideal Providence Graduate.”
The word “acumen” in Latin is defined as “point” and figuratively means “mental sharpness.” Literary acumen means more than just being “well read,” but describes the discernment needed to make wise judgments and choices from a depth of perception that comes from fully engaging in meaningful texts and being informed by them.
How does one develop literary acumen in a culture that SparkNotes itself to a pseudo-competence and copy/pastes its way to grade success? As a humanities teacher, I see six ways Providence successfully combats a “CliffsNote Culture” with real literary acumen.
1. Design a vibrant reading curriculum
Education should be teleological— based on God’s truth and designed for a purpose —much like how God has designed us for a purpose. To develop literary acumen, books and anthologies of shorter essays and poetry are chosen with the intent to discuss these works meaningfully. We select a wide variety of works that reflect the canon of literature, but also provoke thought, feeling, and various worldviews. For example: freshmen read and discuss Robinson Crusoe’s conversion scene, sophomores ruminate about the atrocities of WW1 depicted in All Quiet on the Western Front, juniors examine the dangers of racism in To Kill a Mockingbird, and seniors contemplate brutal totalitarianism in 1984 and the different types of love in C. S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. In four years of Upper School, Providence students will have read and thoroughly discussed at least 30 novels of consequence in humanities courses alone, as well as other numerous essays, short stories, and poems.
2. Teach with the intention to transform
My personal purpose as an educator is to teach to the mind, heart, and spirit. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He then instructs hearers to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (vs.39). These are the greatest commandments and they are foundational. They are also the centerpiece to the practice of teaching wherein the primary aim is to illuminate minds and inspire hearts so that genuine transformation can take place.
Dr. Martha MacCullough in By Design: Developing a Philosophy of Education Informed by a Christian Worldview asserts, “If the aim of education is to promote the full development of each human being as he/she was intended to be (an image bearer of the God of the universe), we must help each individual student develop in all areas: cognitively, socially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.”
Such transformation requires teacher intention and time devoted to directed discussion of texts. Exposure to a wide variety of texts, ideas, and feelings is essential to the transformational process, but a text without an intentional teacher falls flat.
3. Foster discussion in small classes
Small class sizes foster holding robust and inclusive discussions, enabling teachers to personalize education and answer questions that are on the individual’s minds and hearts. Smaller classes are a tremendous advantage for discussing novels of consequence and shorter essays and poetry in different formats: teacher-directed, student-led, Socratic, etc. Given the safe place created to inquire and dialogue, teachers do not shy away from the difficult questions, but embrace them as a process of connecting what we learn to seeking God’s truth in shaping our worldview.
4. Recognize the purpose of literature
We recognize that literature is not an end itself, but the vehicle for learning to think critically, develop empathy, and hone writing and presenting skills. Every work read is either discussed, presented, or written about (or all three). The text read lives far beyond the pages, becoming alive in the mind, heart, mouth, and writing hand of our students. Literary acumen does not end with the reading of a work, but with applying it, appreciating it, counter-arguing it, and further developing upon its ideas.
5. Analyze texts with integrity
In a Christian school, we teach a hermeneutic (textual interpretation) that has integrity. Cultural and reader responses to a literary text have their time and place in the process of interpretation, but frequently land stuck in the swamp of epistemological relativism where all truths are acceptable. It is most important to seek what the author intends to mean and not rest on what we want the work to mean. Literary acumen demands accuracy in interpretation, regardless of whether one agrees with the authorial intent. Responding in dialogue with one another as we seek textual understanding is a valuable skill our graduates develop through reading and interpreting a wide breadth of works in a vibrant learning community.
6. Model the joy of reading
The teacher needs to be an ideal example by continuing to read and discuss works of literature; perhaps this is the most valuable gift we can give the lifelong learner, our Providence graduate. Parents, too, can model this joy by continuing to read to their kids and reading on their own as a pleasant pastime. “Decline by Nine” is correlated with the fact that parents typically stop reading to their children at age nine. The bottom line is, if we want our kids to read well and develop literary acumen, we need to read well.
With the goal to create lifelong learners, literary acumen is essential to this process as a base of content knowledge is needed to advance thinking skills, empathy, and wisdom. Wisdom is acquired, not gifted (except in Solomon’s case, but notice he was wise enough to ask for wisdom in the first place). Curriculum should be designed with the purpose of developing the mind, heart and spirit so that any skill may be acquired down the road.
My goal as a humanities teacher is to make critical thinking, reading, feeling, and writing accessible to all students so they will fall in love with learning for life. It is our hope that every graduate of Providence develops literary acumen – not just earning the label “well-read,” but “well done.”
Upper School Humanities Teacher
Chris Elwood teaches humanities and senior Bible courses at Providence School. He loves the humanities-based interdisciplinary approach to learning through a Christian lens. Being able to discuss literature, philosophy, and history in a distinctly Christian context enriches his life as a teacher. His favorite books to teach are East of Eden, Universe Next Door, A Separate Peace, To Kill a Mockingbird, Frankenstein, 1984, and Till We Have Faces.
We’ve finally finished auditions for James and the Giant Peach, and while I’m headed full steam ahead into the most stressful season of my year, it provides me an opportunity to reflect on the question we must always ask when purposefully putting ourselves into stressful situations, “Why?”
Why take on stress?
I’m looking at long days, sleepless nights, and big emotions—not only my own, but belonging to the students involved in the show, the production team, and anyone who happens to cross my path. So the question stands, “Why?” Why put ourselves into these situations? Why do we go out of our way to encourage students to undertake a potentially stressful project? And, the bigger “why” question: Why do we strive to create something that will exist only for a moment, and then dissipate as suddenly as it appeared?
I am happy to say there is a point to all the craziness. A beautiful fruit comes from theater and the other performing arts; it is called socialemotional intelligence.
Every aspect of performing teaches us how to understand and control our emotions and how to navigate emotions between others.
In acting classes, we learn self-awareness. While studying the works of the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov and other like-minded acting experts, we learn where emotions sit in our bodies. Through psychological gestures we learn that not only do emotions manifest through our body language, but that we can actually change our emotions by choosing different physicalizations. In class, we learn to recognize our own emotions and how they affect our thoughts and behavior. We find our strengths and weaknesses, which builds self-confidence.
Three rules for improv…and for life
In our eighth-grade enrichment class, my colleague, Abigail Pryor, and I place a strong emphasis on improvisational acting. We believe that improv—which requires acting without a script—develops self-management, a basic life skill.
The three rules of improv we encourage students to take with them are 1) Yes…And; 2) Make Statements; and 3) No Mistakes, Only Opportunities! These three skills teach even seasoned improvisational actors to start with an open mind and that their own ideas are worthwhile. They teach actors to come up with solutions, not to look for problems. Finally, they teach that every mistake, no matter how seemingly overwhelming, is just an opportunity to move forward in life.
In improv, we learn we are able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage our emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.
Taking the audience on a journey
Meanwhile, performance pieces, such as plays and musicals, teach us about social connection. It is not enough to only understand our own emotions and how they affect us, we must extend that understanding to the audience. As performers, we are asking the audience to trust us to take them on a journey they’ve never experienced before. In order to build that trust, actors must be authentically interested in the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people. It is imperative that actors are able to pick up on emotional cues and feel comfortable socially.So, what is it all for? What is the “why” behind choosing to undergo a season of stress in order to put on a transitory performance? We do this so our students can learn vital life skills, which come around to be the very antidote to the aforementioned stress: self-awareness, self-management, and social-awareness.
Producing positive outcomes
How can students—and everybody else—develop and apply these social emotional intelligence tools?
For starters, enroll in an acting class! We have several at Providence, covering the gamut from singing, dancing, and acting to learning the technical aspects of performance, including lighting design, set and prop building, stage management, and stage makeup (offered as a TRIAD course in the May third term).
More practically, remember, God has given us emotions to guide us through life.
Start with self-awareness. What am I feeling right now? Where am I holding this emotion in my body? If it is anger, you might feel your jaw clench. If it is fear, you might feel your heart race. If it is happiness, you might notice a lightness in your step.
Then, look to manage the emotion. For example, anger serves as a call to action to eliminate injustice, while fear directs us to find safety.
I have built my performing arts curriculum around recognizing, understanding, and expressing emotions. The benefits of having the language to identify your emotions and the skill to appropriately control them is a rarity in many adults today. It is a priceless skill to develop during the school years.
Finally, find the connection. We have a tendency to only share the emotions we find “good” and “acceptable.” To live authentically, we must honor ALL the emotions we’re experiencing by allowing others to understand us on a deeper level.
All arts, be it performing, visual, or other, are about connecting with others.
And, isn’t connecting at the very heart of the Gospel?
Performing Arts Director
A lifelong performer, Austin Escamilla has spent many years working in the Santa Barbara theater world. He has a passion for improvisation and sketch comedy, as well as acting for the stage and camera. Mr. Escamilla is beyond excited to share his passion for all things theatrical with Providence students. He is inspired by their talent and creativity and enjoys helping build a top-notch performing arts program.
Jamie DeVries has accepted the invitation to join the Providence faculty, beginning in the 2022–2023 academic year. A veteran teacher, Mr. DeVries has devoted the past 23 years of his professional life to helping students succeed, in and beyond the classroom. He is the founder and director of the Entrepreneurship Academy at San Marcos High School, as well as the nonprofit organization Kids Helping Kids, which has raised over $4.5 million for disadvantaged children, locally and globally.
Mr. DeVries has taught United States history and economics courses at all levels, including Advanced Placement (AP) classes, first at Santa Ynez High School and primarily at San Marcos High School. He has also taught dual-enrollment business courses in entrepreneurship, finance, marketing, and more through Santa Barbara City College. At Providence, he will teach economics, government, and humanities courses in the Upper School. He will collaborate with current teacher Bruce Rottman, who announced he is retiring at the end of the current school year, to prepare for his new teaching assignment.
With devotion to helping students succeed in academics and in life, Mr. DeVries has created many opportunities to influence students beyond the classroom, including founding an international education tour company and leading summer tours throughout Europe, organizing and leading high school service-learning trips to Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba, and India, and creating a local youth mentorship program.
A graduate of Westmont College with a bachelor’s degree in economics and business, Mr. DeVries holds a single-subject teaching credential through Chapman University. Additionally, he is a certified life coach, having trained in the Stanford University Design Your Life program. He is the recipient of many local, state, and national awards, including Santa Barbara County’s Superintendent Bill Cirone “Heart of Education Award” (2019), Santa Barbara County “Distinguished Educator of the Year” (2011), and was named one of Westmont College’s “80 Notable Alumni” (celebrating Westmont’s 80th anniversary).
Jamie DeVries and his wife, Tiffany, already are integral members of the Providence community, with their two children enrolled in the Preschool and Lower School. Through his children’s experience at Providence, Jamie has become passionate about Christian education. “When a teacher visits our backyard to welcome our child to school and to pray with her, there are no words to describe that profound experience,” he relates.
“From my perspective, faith and learning are inseparable and I truly believe we are called to be doers of the word. There are countless opportunities to incorporate faith into daily curriculum; for me it comes down to living a life worthy of God’s calling by searching after truth and appreciating the liberties that we have been given.”
Mr. Rottman and Mr. DeVries are professional acquaintances, having met at an economics teachers conference in Utah in 2017. There, they discovered a mutual passion for the freedom philosophy. “Students under my direction have always come to appreciate the gifts of freedom that our founders have passed down, as well as the veterans who have protected these gifts,” says Mr. DeVries, “and this underscores much of my worldview and how I deliver curriculum. The opportunity to teach the philosophical principles of liberty and free markets from a foundation of faith and in a community that strives to pursue Christ together is a welcome responsibility and a personal blessing.”
Bruce Rottman, Upper School humanities, economics, and government teacher, plans to retire from full-time classroom teaching at the end of the current school year. Mr. Rottman joined the Providence Hall faculty in 2009 and has played a pivotal role in Providence School’s development and flourishing.
A fulltime high school teacher since 1980, Mr. Rottman has enjoyed 42 consecutive years fulfilling his lifelong passion to teach. His career has taken the Muskegon, Michigan native to both Christian and independent schools in Florida (Naples Christian Academy), Northern California (Contra Costa Christian School), Washington (Lynden Christian School), Wisconsin (Brookfield Academy) and finally, southern California (Providence School).
“I am grateful God has granted me all these years and incredible opportunities to shape the minds and hearts of the next generation,” says Mr. Rottman. “I have had the privilege to not only guide young minds in how to think, but I’ve also been able to guide them as they discern what to think about the topics I believe are noble, virtuous, and important to advancing God’s Kingdom.”
When Mr. Rottman joined Providence Hall, the high school, founded in 2007, was still in its start-up phase. “Under God’s providence and through the persistent effort of our board members, administrators, faculty, and supporters, we have created a wonderful school that provides stellar opportunities for students to engage with great ideas, grow spiritually, and develop the skills and habits that will serve them well in college and throughout their lives,” he reflected.
Rod Meadth, Upper School principal, says he expects Mr. Rottman’s retirement will bring mixed emotions from the faculty and student body. “Bruce has been a pillar of our teaching community over the years, with many students attesting to his good influence in their lives. Students coming up may be disappointed to learn he is retiring, but we can’t expect him to teach forever! After 42 years of devotion to his craft and hundreds of students having passed through his classroom, he has earned a rest. But I know that the lives he has shaped will continue to pass on that good influence in their own families, businesses, and communities. Bruce is passionate about building the Kingdom of God with excellence and understanding, and he can be proud of having done just that. This is his legacy.”
Mr. Rottman looks forward to whatever the future holds outside the classroom, which is likely to be a combination of consulting, part-time teaching, writing, creating art, renovating an older home, and spending time with his family. To ease into retirement, he has accepted a one-year position to launch a free market institute and teach a dual-credit economics class at Brookfield Academy, in conjunction with Concordia University Wisconsin.
“I will never retire from sharing my passion for liberty and sound economics and how those ideals reduce poverty and contribute to human flourishing,” Mr. Rottman says. “Without a doubt, I remain committed to the Providence mission and to seeing the school I’ve been privileged to help build succeed at every level. I am confident God has provided an excellent new faculty member in Jamie DeVries, who will bring his own mix of talents and skills to benefit our students.”
Last fall, I enjoyed accompanying the sixth graders on a Beyond the Classroom hike, along with Providence faculty members Mr. Scott Mitchell, Mrs. Mary Wilson, and Mrs. Kendra Forster (nee Dayton). A visiting student I’ll call “John” joined us that day. I appreciated his courage, as he was our only guest, he didn’t know anyone, and he had never hiked before. John and I became trail buddies as we navigated a challenging but exhilarating day in the Los Padres front country.
During our five-hour hike up Jesusita Trail, John and I ran low on water, overheated in the hot sun, felt our energy lag as the trail steepened, and even despaired a little bit when we finished the “emergency chocolate” and were still nowhere near the top. I encouraged him to think about where we were going and what we would see: spectacular views of the city, sea, and sky from a peak overlooking all of Santa Barbara.
A journey with a distinct destination
At Providence, we like to say we begin with the end in mind. We look ahead to the goal of a Providence education–graduation and beyond–and plan how we can best “prepare students for lives of purpose equipped with the knowledge, wisdom, and character found in God’s unchanging truth,” as stated in our mission.
We have four divisions in our Preschool through Grade 12 school in which to work toward this noble goal. We’ve ascribed a word for each division to articulate how we partner with parents to produce hopeful, grateful, determined, and confident students. Year after year, we build upon what students have learned and prepare them for the next stage of their educational, social/emotional, and spiritual development. We call this the Providence Journey.
Preschool students feel known and loved
The word for Preschool is nurture. Students engage in play-based learning in a vibrant, dynamic, and safe environment. As a result, they develop social and emotional skills, build self-confidence and independence, and cultivate kindergarten readiness. Modeling the love of God, thoughtful teachers lay the educational foundation that subsequent divisions build upon.
Lower School launches life-long learners
The word for the Lower School is inspire, as teachers instill in students joy for learning that will serve them for the rest of their lives. Teachers nurture abilities, strengthen weaknesses, and guide in knowledge and truth. As a result, students grow in their understanding of God’s love for them and develop a sense of personal responsibility.
Middle School students find their unique gifts and talents
The word for our Middle School division is encourage. Middle school is a season of transition when students begin to discover themselves and their potential. Our Middle School team encourages students to delight in who God made them be as they explore new ideas, consider new perspectives, and develop new talents. As a result, students grow into a learning community and discover each person’s value and significant contribution.
Upper School students pursue excellence and impact
The word for our Upper School division is challenge. The high school years are some of the most important in preparing students for success in life and college. Faculty train students to use their minds well and seek the truth. Chapel, Bible classes, service opportunities, and spiritual retreats foster character development and teach students to root their identity in Christ. Providence students graduate prepared to engage culture and impact our communities through service, leadership, and civic duty.
Our journey language—nurture, inspire, encourage, and challenge— is intentional because we have a destination in mind. And like every great hike in Santa Barbara, the view at the end is spectacular.
Don’t stop now!
Early in the sixth grade hike, my trail partner, John, repeatedly asked me how far we had to go. “We’re just getting started,” I’d reply. Then, when we were well past the halfway mark, I pivoted my encouragement to “We’re almost there.” But when he said he couldn’t go any further and we were almost to the top, I said, “You’ve never been this far or climbed so high, and I won’t let you miss this view!” Buoyed by encouragement, he ran the last 35 steps to the peak at Inspiration Point.
John would probably tell you I dragged him to the top, but his big smile of accomplishment as he looked out over all of Santa Barbara was worth every minute of challenge and pain on the way to the peak. The story he had to tell his parents about his journey up Jesusita Trail would be a story of perseverance, resilience, and growth.
As each division at Providence encourages students to dive deeper, explore, and find a personal sense of calling, we see curiosity and excitement explode and students’ lives transformed. We believe God designs his children—our students—for a much bigger purpose than just graduating from school. God’s call is to an active, adventurous life of leadership, service, and influence.
No matter when students join the Providence Journey, whether in the earliest years of Preschool or at the threshold of Middle School or beyond, I can’t help but think, “We’re just getting started!”
Admissions Director (K–12)
Tawny Kilpper is the Providence School K–12 admissions director and parent of a Providence graduate and a current Upper School junior. She loves sharing the Providence Journey with students and parents and encourages anyone to reach out for more information.