Montecito Union School’s Nature Lab Offers Limitless Potential

By Giving List Staff   |   April 8, 2021

At the southern end of Montecito Union School lies a 2.5-acre property with nearly limitless potential. After a school-wide visioning process that involved every student, we have named this space and decided upon a bold vision for its use.

When fully realized, the Nature Lab will invite learners to imagine, build, and get messy in nature as they care for the planet and one another. We will do this by creating an experiential outdoor ecosystem that combines:

– Biodynamic/Regenerative Agriculture

– Nature-Inspired Making and Arts Collaboratory

– Environment as Agent of Challenge and Wonder…

– …providing endless possibilities to grow within a unique and ever-evolving natural setting.

Biodynamic/Regenerative Agriculture

When students cross over the Joffrey Bridge into Nature lab, they will be entering a space of wonderment and awe. Students will create a model of self-sustaining agriculture including gardens, produce, composting, and livestock and other animals.  As they harvest, they will decide what to use, what to donate, and what to sell as they engage in both business development and service learning.

Nature-Inspired Making and Arts Collaboratory

At Nature Lab, students will be active creators. This includes nature-inspired making and tinkering such as pottery, collage, wood and metalworking, weaving and textiles, painting, dye, and mixed media projects using the natural materials that abound. While our large solar array will generate 100% of the electricity needs for the whole campus, it will also provide a shaded gathering place for the community or a natural performance and gallery place. The addition of an outdoor kitchen will produce many opportunities for gatherings and for using the produce and crops grown on site.

Environment as Agent of Challenge and Wonder

Students will be able to investigate the riparian zone created by our water feature, the natural playground made from the logs of massive eucalyptus, and engage in student-led inquiries and purposeful play in our low treehouse. Student agency and the pursuit of passions will help us to launch inspired thinkers who will positively impact the world.

The Nature Lab is already being used in its current form, allowing for large-scale engineering, small-scale agriculture, and plenty of opportunities for student activism. If we realize the full potential of Nature Lab, we will have created a lasting resource and a living experiential outdoor facility that will help to nurture, excite, and inspire generations of Mustangs!

Progress Report

Much has already been accomplished at the Nature Lab. First, the house that was on the property was demolished. Though the house was beautiful, it was not up to code for use by public school students, so it needed to be removed.  The removal of this house also made for much more usable space at the Nature Lab.

To provide an entrance befitting the Nature Lab, the Joffrey Footbridge was constructed, linking “MUS proper” to the Nature Lab. This picturesque footbridge meets the functional need to safely get to the property, and also creates a distinct feel for the user that they are entering a place of wonderment and beauty.

The low tree house has also been fully constructed and is already been well-utilized by students. It has served as the site of science experiments, reading circles, impromptu dramatic play, has been converted into a colonial schoolhouse by 5th graders, and has provided a teaching spot for classes utilizing Nature Lab.

Our Nature Lab is already home to a few animals, including three chickens and one sulcata tortoise. The animal enclosures are simple and safe at the moment, but students are already helping us to design animal enclosures that better meet the needs of these animals, are more permanent, and better designed.

A large-scale solar structure has been designed which will generate 100% of the electricity needs for the entire campus as well as provide shade for students using the northern section of the property. This structure will begin construction June of 2021 and should be completed by August of 2021. In addition, a full infrastructure plan has been designed (water, electricity, sewer, and gas) and this should also be completed by August 2021.

That means that by September 2021 we will be ready to really develop this property! 

With the help of student designers and parent volunteers, we hope to create gardens, a farm stand, an outdoor kitchen, and more. We’ll also work to professionally design a water feature which will be a centerpiece of the property and attract birds and other animals while providing an excellent opportunity for students to become scientists as they explore the natural world.


Montecito Union School Foundation
Phone: (847) 508-3374
Tara Fergusson


Montecito Union School District is committed to instilling a love of learning while providing innovative, comprehensive, and supportive learning opportunities, including: a thinking curriculum based on Harvard’s Project Zero; a character program with special emphasis on Habits of Mind; a researched-based approach to instruction in which each grade’s instruction builds on previous learning; robust specialist experiences and a comprehensive arts education; and a whole-child approach to serve as a foundation for success in academics and life.

Begin to Build a Relationship

We know you care about where your money goes and how it is used. Connect with this organization’s leadership in order to begin to build this important relationship. Your email will be sent directly to this organization’s Director of Development and/or Executive Director.

It’s All About Science

“The Nature Lab provides children at MUS an opportunity to not only advance the cause of STEAM learning, but it also lets them get a little dirty! That’s how you really learn. Our community’s children are our most important asset. Contributing to their education and appreciation of our natural world is a very solid investment.”
-Buck Joffrey, MD, Host of the Wealth Formula Podcast and the father of three MUS girls – donated the funds last spring for construction of the Joffrey Bridge connecting the school to the Nature Lab.

Naming Rights

Over the next two years, MUSF will build a gathering space called the Collaboratory, a farm, pond, and paths throughout, and is offering naming rights to help them reach their fundraising goal.
2020/21 Foundation President Tara Fergusson believes that “a strong Montecito Union is a strong Montecito”. You can contact her directly at or (847)508-3374 to learn more details.

Board of Directors

Tara Fergusson, President
Dodie Mcbroom, Vice President
Teresa Pichardo-Urbina, Secretary
Cathy Bunnin, Fundraising Events Chair
Erica Leggio, Treasurer
Tj Jackson, Annual Giving Chair
Vanessa Scarlett, Teacher Member
Ana Rudnicki, Steam Coordinator
Anthony Ranii
Tod Spieker
Ben Hyatt