Senior Portrait: Marilyn Bachman

By Zach Rosen   |   March 4, 2021
Marilyn spent over 40 years teaching students the value of teamwork, hands-on experiences, and the splendor of the outdoors

By working with others, we can discover our strengths and weaknesses. Teamwork leads to not just self-discovery, but also teaches us how to trust in the skills of others to produce work that is greater than the sum of the team effort. Marilyn Bachman has spent a lifetime learning the value of teamwork as a grade-school teacher for over forty years. Marilyn was born in Bellevue, Washington, grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and attended the University of Washington, where she met her future husband, Steve. This occurred during the Vietnam War, and Steve was drafted. While he was away, Marilyn spent time with her mother-in-law, a kindergarten teacher, and discovered a passion for teaching. Her mother-in-law became her mentor. Upon returning from Vietnam, Steve finished his degree in geology and the couple were married. They moved to Los Angeles where Steve continued his education and geology career, and where Marilyn began teaching. On weekends and between school sessions, Marilyn would accompany Steve on geological field work. The two would work as a team with Steve taking measurements and Marilyn taking notes. From the High Sierras to the Philippines, these geological excursions had the couple moving over the subsequent 20 years, with Steve working in various positions with Marilyn teaching at local schools. In 1984, the two settled in Montecito, where Marilyn taught sixth-grade in the Montecito Union School District (MUS).

The Importance of a Good Team

At MUS, Marilyn found that teamwork was treated as the foundation of teaching. Not just the teachers, but for the students, too. Marilyn found that teamwork is important for developing social skills in students and for their own self-discovery. In her first 10 years at MUS, Marilyn worked with fellow teacher Carter Morgan to develop a curriculum that incorporated the principles of Habits of the Mind and taught students through first-hand and authentic experiences. They decided to team up and teach specific subjects by different skill levels. This allowed students to be taught to their individual strengths and to have the opportunity to work successfully at their ability level. Marilyn and Carter first adopted this approach with math before expanding to science, social studies and eventually to computer and technology classes. This style of teaching was well received; Marilyn actually found that students were eager to get the results of their math test. Just as the leveled classes allowed students to learn according to their strengths, they also allowed the team to teach to their strengths. As the student population grew, the two expanded their team of teachers to include Sue Carmody for language arts, the “cheerleader” of the team, and Barbara Frombola for social studies. Barbara also brought to the team a strong sense of humor that helped spark an ongoing series of tricks and pranks between her and Marilyn’s class. The teachers found that fun only took a few minutes out of the day and did wonders for building a sense of camaraderie for the entire class. 

This fun approach to teaching went beyond the classroom with Marilyn taking students on five-day-long nature excursions. On these adventures, students would explore the outdoors while expanding their understanding of nature. They’d be challenged with a physical feat like a nine-mile hike, or a high-rope course. Some of the kids had never been on a hike before, and the endurance events gave them a sense of accomplishment that became a benchmark for empowering the students. Whether it was a troubling math problem or a difficult essay, Marilyn would remind the students that if they could complete a hike or high rope challenge, then they could face an academic challenge. This blend of hands-on experiences and interactive education gave students the chance to discover their natural talents and develop their entire selves.

Of the seven or so school districts Marilyn has taught at, MUS is the best one she has been at and over the years her team had the complete support of the superintendent, Dr. Bronte Reynolds, and the school board. Marilyn recognizes the sacrifice that many families make to move to a home within the district so their children can attend MUS. Just as she and Steve did for their own two daughters, who both went to MUS and of course had their mother for math and science. The format of the programs their team developed have evolved over the years but many of the principles remain. Marilyn was awarded Santa Barbara County Distinguished Educator of the Year in 2001 and National Earth Science Teacher of the Year in 2005. Of course, she credits the team as a whole for all of their successes over the years. Marilyn retired from teaching in 2012 after 43 years in the classroom. Her passion for education had not faded though and she joined the MUS Board of Education in 2016. While Marilyn may be retired from teaching, she remains active in the community. 

The Great Outdoors

Marilyn’s love for the outdoors and the natural environment remains as strong as ever with her describing the fossils and wildlife while on a cruise along the northern tip of Iceland, or telling of a wine picnic while cross-country skiing, as we speak. For 20 years Marilyn and Steve owned a house in Mammoth, which served as a base for their hikes, bike trips, and of course, skiing. They have long been avid bikers, even shopping at the original REI store while living in Washington. From biking across the Spanish Pyrenees to riding through the French Dordogne Valley, they have seen the world from two wheels. While international travel is not as easy these days, Marilyn and Steve still find solace in the outdoors, riding among the many beautiful biking paths or going to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden for some socially distanced play with their grandchildren, who love the new plant scavenger hunt the gardens just introduced. Over the years, Steve has also discovered a taste for winemaking, operating a vineyard out of Santa Ynez along with noted mycologist Dr. Bob Cummings and his wife, Lynne, who was on Marilyn’s team at MUS. Just as in school or on a geological site, they work as a team with Lynne, Marilyn, and even the grandchildren helping in the vineyard. Marilyn has lived her life according to her own lessons of learning through hands-on experiences and the value of teamwork. One can say that the community is grateful that she is part of our team.


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