Learning Life Skills from The Key Class

By Stella Haffner   |   February 22, 2022

“My parents don’t work in an office, and they never went through interviews. So they wouldn’t be able to teach me this type of stuff,” says Fatima Lopez. A first generation American and the first in her family to attend college, Fatima reminds me that details such as how to conduct yourself at an interview aren’t always passed down in the osmosis-like process many of us in Montecito are surely used to.

As I face my own college graduation and explore the space of this column, I find myself looking for ways to highlight education initiatives here in Santa Barbara. Two weeks ago we heard from Kai Etz – alum of The Key Class, a local program designed to give students essential skills for success. This week, I’m hoping to take us in a further investigation of this course with an interview from Fatima Lopez. 

Q. Do you remember how you first learned about The Key Class?

A. It all started when I lived at Housing Authority. I learned about it, and while it sounded interesting, I thought it might just be the same old stuff we learn in school. But I attended the class and realized: “Wait. I don’t know this.” I ended up taking two different courses from The Key Class while I was at Housing Authority and then another one with my AVID class. I actually have taken it three times now. I was so happy to have access to the information, so I just kept taking it and taking it. 

What did you learn in The Key Class that has stuck with you?

They taught us basic manners, how to apply for a job, how to make a resumé. The course I took at Housing Authority also covered checking, mortgages, finances. I really learned a lot from that class. But I think the social stuff stuck with me the most. Learning to go out of my way to talk to new people, give a firm handshake. These are things that seem obvious, but you wouldn’t necessarily know. 

Have you gotten an opportunity to use these skills?

Yes. So I’m in my first year in college. I actually really thought I wouldn’t make it here. But I had people like John [Daly] to support me, I had Gateway, a tutoring program where they help you with your application. They told me which scholarships I could apply to, especially since money was a big factor for my family. Of course, when I was applying for college, I had to do a bunch of interviews, especially for the scholarships. I had to take into account all the things I’d learned at The Key Class like coming in on time, having eye contact, making sure to do research before you go into the meetings so they know that you’re interested. These are all the things I learned that helped get me into college, and now I get to major in psychology and hopefully use it to become a social worker. 

Can you tell me more about your interest in social work?

When I was little, I was in foster care. I was able to see how the system worked with my foster parents and felt like they were just doing it for the money; they didn’t really care for kids. I realized at a young age that this wasn’t fair and felt that, as social workers, we should be finding people who are really interested, people who aren’t in it for the money. As a foster care child, you already feel like people don’t care about you. I want to better the foster care system, find kids good homes, hopefully ones that are permanent.

How old were you when you were in foster care?

I was seven. I feel like that experience – everything happens for a reason. And I’m hoping to do better. I feel more empathy for other people in foster care because I went through it myself. I wasn’t even sure I’d make it this far, but I had a bunch of people helping me. It was hard, but I made it. And now, majoring in psychology, I’ll have a chance to help other kids get better homes.

Through the donation of material resources, we help keep organizations like The Unity Shoppe and local homeless warming centers in operation. But it is important to remember that people aren’t only deprived of a bed or food but also of mental nourishment – the soft skills that enforce a very high barrier to entry in the job market and in education.

Access to these soft skills is often most limited for generational pioneers like Fatima. The programs mentioned in this interview – AVID, Gateway, and of course, The Key Class – are all programs that focus on alleviating educational disparity. By supporting programs like these, that empower young students to overcome social, educational, and resource deprivation, we are helping make that essential support and guidance available.  

To learn more visit www.thekeyclass.com 


You might also be interested in...