The Key Class: A First-Hand Experience

By Stella Haffner   |   February 8, 2022
Santa Barbara native Kai Etz

Since I was about elbow height, I’ve been making grocery shopping difficult for my mother. If I’m honest, I’ve probably been making it difficult since before then. But it was around four or five years old that I developed the especially vexing habit of zoning out, stepping on her heel, and having us both ram into the cart. While she has come to terms with it, I can only hope my fellow Montecito Journal writers have too because my foray into journalism has followed much the same style.

I frequently see articles here in the Journal that make me think: “Oh. That’s very good. I want to talk about that too.” This happened once again only a few weeks ago when I read Nick Masuda’s piece on The Key Class.

The Key Class is a life-changing program developed here in Santa Barbara that focuses on giving students the key knowledge and skills they need to reach their potential. Founder John Daly built The Key Class with the mission to provide students with mentorship that is patient, respectful, and dedicated towards future career success – something many young students would not otherwise receive. 

I wanted to invite Key Class alumni to the column, so that we could have a better understanding of the positive work the course does and how this benefits students in the long run. Here to provide insight into these benefits is Key Class alum and emerging mathematician, Kai Etz

Dear Montecito, 

Often boys find themselves acting foolish for a girl. Going into my first year of middle school at La Colina Junior High, there was an optional assessment test to skip one grade of math. It so happened that my middle school crush had told me she planned to take this test and, just to impress her, I studied all summer so that I could pass and we would reunite in the same class again. Both to my fortune and dismay, I passed the test. She did not. What I didn’t know at the time was that this would be the catalyst for my dedication to academics.   

My name is Kai Etz. Born and raised in Santa Barbara, California from hikes to restaurants, there is little I do not know about this town. At 21 years old, I have now received two associate degrees in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at Santa Barbara City College and am attending the University of California Merced where I will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics. None of this would have been possible without Mr. Daly, who helped push me in my education. The encouragement I received not only boosted me through my years in school but also inspired me to save money all through high school and city college. Because of this, I’ve been able to put myself through college at Merced debt free.  

I first met Mr. Daly as a guest speaker during one of my elective courses in high school. Feeling inspired by what I heard, I enrolled in his course The Key Class. What made this experience impactful was its authenticity. Here was a decorated and respected man instructing youth on how society functions outside and after the scholastic setting. Having never before been exposed to the idea of a steady income or of internships, the experience was eye-opening.  

With a greater sense of business than I’d had a few years ago, I started my first job in the Funk Zone at Helena Avenue Bakery. I began as a dishwasher, but after a year, they decided I would move to a front of house position as a barista, which led to my second chance encounter with Mr. Daly. There for Sunday brunch, he saw me working the counter, recognized me, and then approached me with a job offer.  

The Key Class had been a very important course to me, so I quickly accepted when John asked if I’d come to fundraisers to help promote the course. From speaking at these events to helping solve technology issues that came up, I’ve been happy to be a part of the picture because of how much I believe in this cause. The knowledge I gained at The Key Class means I can better apply myself towards life’s next steps. As a young person starting their career, it has been invaluable to understand how to find and accept internships, a skill I learned in Mr. Daly’s course. Just this winter break, I was offered a position as a member of the Apple AirPods team, with the opportunity to intern under their department. 

I’m both grateful and excited for this opportunity, especially as it provides such a good launching point for graduation and a career where I can use my degree in Applied Math. You might be wondering what someone does with an Applied Math degree. The opportunities are truly wide-reaching, and a course of study such as this can lead to careers with solar panel companies designing more efficient solar arrays; it may lead you into medical departments where they need mathematicians to predict virus growth such as the Delta and Omicron COVID variants; Applied Math can even lead to a profession in better computer-generation for studios like Pixar. Approaching my last years in college, I aim to either intern for a private company or for an institution such as UC Merced to do research over the summer. One day I will be using mathematical modeling to perform top secret environmental research with a team of brilliantly dedicated engineers and biologists, traveling the Sahara and Amazon to push modern sciences and expand our body of knowledge. 

Yours sincerely,


Interested in donating to The Key Class or learning more? Visit

From the shores of Scotland, Stella keeps her connection to her home in Montecito by bringing grads of local schools to the pages of the MJ 


You might also be interested in...