Dear Montecito: KiSea Katikka

By Stella Haffner   |   November 19, 2020
“It took me a long time to realize that my relationship with my classmates would always be a function of what they expected from my life,” says KiSea Katikka of her time at Crane School.

I’ve written and rewritten this introduction so many times. I keep revising because I want to get it right. Most importantly, I want to get it right without any of the self-congratulatory nonsense that often accompanies social justice grandstanding.

I first met KiSea Katikka on my visit day to Crane Country Day School. A shared love of theatre meant that for the next five years, we spent a staggering number of hours together, working with different theatre companies and school programs. We continued to be friends because KiSea is thoughtful and funny and truly resourceful in a way most of my childhood friends never had to be. But all this was set to the backdrop of her personal life. So when I asked her to write a letter for this column, I was hoping she might give us some insight about the unhealthy expectations under which our local schools operate.

As KiSea says in her letter, we were incredibly fortunate to receive the care and attention from the schools we attended. Equally, it is important to remember that expectations, even – or especially – optimistic ones, have the ability to harm. 

Dear Montecito,

I lived in Montecito cumulatively for two years, and when I did, it was in an apartment behind Starbucks and the Vons parking lot on Coast Village Road. 

Generally speaking, Crane treated me very well. The tailored education gave me leeway to tackle my dyslexia and although middle school students aren’t always a picture of acceptance, for the most part they were nice enough. Teachers worked with us on our level even when it meant going out of their way. What strikes me looking back is how the resources at our disposal were all but overlooked by the other students. Meanwhile, I felt very lucky to have access to unpoliced printers in every classroom, ready computer access throughout campus (with proper technical support), and a general abundance of supplies. Not to mention all the opportunities afforded to us from such a well-rounded education.

There were comments, sure. Sometimes other kids would ask why I had such an old phone or why I’d fix a rip in my shirt instead of just buying a new one. These questions usually rolled off my back. In turn, I was included in conversations about home swimming pools, horses, lavish presents, parties, and trips (often taken for granted). It took me a long time to realize that my relationship with my classmates would always be a function of what they expected from my life. To them, it would have been unfathomable to mend clothing because you weren’t going out to buy something new or to park outside a closed Starbucks to use their Wi-Fi when the power goes out in your apartment. But this was, and is, a part of my reality.

Private schools in Santa Barbara are criticized for a lot of things – being too homogenous, being too wealthy, the usual. But I’ve never heard people talk about the noxious optimism that is inherent to the schools’ culture. We’re taught that anyone who reaches for success will be able to grab it. I was well into high school before I discovered that I didn’t have a college fund. Whatever money available for my education had been used on Crane. It didn’t deter me from graduating high school early. But it did break my expectations about applying to higher education. I’d never been prepared to apply for grants or scholarships. We weren’t told to strive for college – it had been a foregone conclusion. While I am extremely grateful for everything I was taught there, I am still recovering from the world I was taught to expect back in middle school.

Now writing this, approaching 20 years old, I had thought I would be a least halfway through college by now. I haven’t yet had a chance to get where I’m going. As I sit here, writing this letter, I can’t help but think about college essays I’ve avoided since graduating. I had all but finished my applications. I’d even written a few good ones. But they were never sent out. I didn’t have the money or know what to do.

I’m still intent on applying to college, even in the midst of lockdown, even if I never go. (And I don’t know where the money is going to come from, so I’ll have to get back to you on that.) I’ve survived my unintentional gap year, or three, and attended all the community college classes I can squeeze in while working and getting on with life. This is the reality of my world. 

Thanks for listening,

KiSea Katikka 

P.S. Parents of Montecito children, if you have recommendations on people to feature in “Dear Montecito” please contact me,


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