School in the redwoods

Mount Madonna invites kids to explore

EXPLORE Beyond its 335-acre campus, Mount Madonna School encourages students to connect with nature, including its high school trip on the American River.

Situated on 355 acres of redwood forest with views of the entire Monterey Bay, Mount Madonna School (MMS) offers its students an environment like no other.

“At MMS, we ask our students to take care of this beautiful land they are schooled on,” upper school Shannon Kelly said. “We ask them to understand the impact of their choices environmentally and socially.”
With more than 40 educators, MMS is committed to educating the whole child by focusing on academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development, all of which help prepare students for a successful and meaningful life.
Students are asked to explore who they are, what they value, and what responsibilities they have to themselves and their communities.

“All of these things help our students develop into caring and engaged citizens,” Kelly said.

“Education here is not only about content, what they learn, but it is really about process and relationship, too,” said MMS marketing director Leigh Ann Clifton.
Founded in 1979, MMS began in a one-room schoolhouse; its first graduating class in 1985 consisted of a single student.
Today the school serves PreK through 12th grade with current enrollment at 185.
MMS is fully accredited through Western Association of Schools and Colleges and California Association of Independent Schools and is an independent non-sectarian college preparatory school.
Tuition ranges from $10,890 per year for part-time Pre/K classes and up to $24,010 per year for 11th and 12th grades.
One noticeable difference at MMS is the class size; the maximum number of students per class is 20. Admissions director Benna Dimig said another unique aspect of the school is its emphasis on the performing arts.
“One thing that sets us apart is that our performing arts program, starting in sixth grade, is mandatory,” Dimig said. “They are going to take dance and voice and music; it’s part of who we are and what we do.”
Three times each school year, all students from Pre/K and up have the opportunity to perform on stage. At the close of each school year the entire school participates in an annual performance of the Ramayana!, with this year marking the play’s 41st year in production.
Dimig believes this type of mandatory curriculum helps build a student’s self-confidence as well as empathy for others.
“How they impact their class and their community, it brings all that to life,” Dimig said. “There’s a foundation of confidence and trust in themselves and in others that just can’t be built any other way.”
Continually inspired by teachers at MMS, Both Clifton and Dimig credit them with the success and longevity of the school.

“I love what we’re doing up here. I love the program; I love the amount of passion and concern for each student that our faculty and our staff and our administration really does have,” Dimig said. “I love the heart, the heart of the school.”
Open House on Nov. 5. For more information about Mount Madonna School, 491 Summit Road, Watsonville, visit or call 408.847.2717.

Kimberly Ewertz
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About Kimberly Ewertz
Kimberly Ewertz is a freelance writer for South Valley magazine and Gilroy Dispatch.