Monica Ros Lives On: Progressive Educator’s School Reaches 75th Year
By Sarah Howery Hart
Founder’s Day, an annual January event at Ojai’s Monica Ros School, is a celebration of Monica Ros’ establishment of Ojai’s first nursery school in 1942. January is also Arts Month, and, according to Susan Hardenbergh, Monica Ros school director, many of the art projects revolve around Ros. “At the end of Arts Month we celebrate her birthday,” Hardenbergh explains. “Last year, we had students who made a little book about her.” Students also perform a play. “At that time, we talk about Mrs. Ros and how she came here to be near Krishnamurti. We also have a bust of her in front of the office, and they dress her up in a birthday hat for her birthday.”
This year an extra fancy hat is in order as 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the facility, which now includes preschool through third grade, extended care, and summer camp.
During her childhood in Australia, Monica Ros enjoyed experiences in all forms of creativity including music, dance, drama and art. Later, when she married a Cuban man, Ricardo Ros, she also began to travel, including to India due to the couple’s interest in Krishnamurti, who they also followed to Ojai. Both taught school — Ricardo Ros at the Thacher School teaching Spanish, Monica Ros teaching music to local children.
They then moved to Cuba, but after her husband’s death, Ros returned to Ojai in 1940 and resumed teaching music at her Grand Avenue home. Encouraged by Ojai resident Mrs. Anson Thacher, Ros expanded upon the list of subjects she taught, and in 1942 opened Monica Ros School in her home. Two years later she moved the school to its permanent location on McNell Road.
Among Ros’ first students were Thacher’s children, Tony and Anne. “My mother was very fond of Mrs. Ros,” Tony Thacher recalls. “She encouraged her to start the school. My sister was in the first class in 1942.”
Tony Thacher was in the second class, and he recalls what his mother liked about the school. “The progressive school movement, started earlier, was appealing to my mother. Being creative, doing things with your hands and mind at the same time, and Mrs. Ros certainly embraced that.” One particular experience he remembers, is having class outdoors. “We spent a lot of time outside. I remember finger painting wearing a smock — that was all outside.”
Another student, also named Anne, (and who later became his wife) liked the academics at Monica Ros, especially math. She was one of the few students to attend fourth and fifth grade, prior to the school’s decision to include only nursery school through third grade. “I went there through fifth grade. I was the only one in the fifth grade,” she says. One thing I remember, Mrs. Ros hired a separate math teacher.”
Monica Ros School was a family affair for many families. Multiple siblings attended, including Allan Jacobs, also one of the original students. “She (Ros) went around to all the neighbors in the East End, including my parents, and said, ‘If I start a preschool will you send your kids?’ My parents guaranteed that I would go and that my sister and brother would follow me. They would make certain that all three of us attended.”
Jacobs recalls one of his favorite aspects of the school. “What I liked best was the individual attention you got in the small classes and the fact that everyone participated in her art and music classes, which weren’t available in other schools at that time. I can remember sitting on the floor around Mrs. Ros when she was playing the piano.”
Bob Davis, another student who began at Monica Ros the second year, also recalls the music. “Mrs. Ros was my teacher in one of the grades. She played the violin and piano.”
Monica Ros students, like Ros, herself, as a child, were exposed to a variety of arts, and among the most popular activities were the school plays. “I remember Monica as being really interested in music and the arts,” Jacobs says, and we were all in plays together.”
Thacher says he remembers the plays also, but quips that he playing,”) and Davis recalls, “Mrs. Ros took the book (“Peter and the Wolf,”) and made a play out of it. Tony Thacher’s sister, Anne, was the cat, and I was the duck. They played the music, and people asked me, “Oh, did you play the oboe?’”
Memories of Mrs. Ros
Among the memories these early Monica Ros students have, are their fond recollections of Monica Ros herself. “Things were different there,” Davis recalls. “Mrs. Ros drove her Buick station wagon around the East End picking up kids. We would all pile in there.”
Anne Thacher recalls, “She was very child-friendly. Mrs. Ros was a very classy lady. She was pretty much a perfect teacher. She was elegant, and very kind.”
“She made you feel like you were important,” Jacobs remembers, referring especially to Ros’ personalized Student Progress Reports. “She had a unique way of evaluating your skills. She said that I really like to dance, I had good rhythm.”
Although having good rhythm was not accurate for all students’ Progress Reports, Ros found and commented on every student’s talent. “She would teach us to march,” says Tony Thacher. “She identified my musical talent early, as I remember,” he said, “and I got to play the ribbed musical sticks. That was about my level. Classes were interactive, and I remember the classroom which was part of her house. She was a great math and English teacher. ” He admits, “My favorite subject was recess.”
But there were least favorite classes too, and Davis remembers that, for him, that was Rhythm Class. “We were supposed to dance lightly around the room and snap our fingers, and I couldn’t do that.”
He describes Ros as kind, but strict. “I don’t remember Mrs. Ros being a particularly fun-loving person, but she was very kind. She was a disciplinarian, and none of us wanted to cross that line.”
Tony Thacher agrees. “She was a disciplinarian, and she did wash my cousin’s mouth out with soap.”
A Happy Place
These original students’ positive memories of Ros all include the descriptor, “kind, ” and each of them also recalls that Monica Ros School was a happy place to be. “I always looked forward to going to school,” Davis says.
These students and many others have also enjoyed their continued association with the school and with Ros, herself, such as Davis, who continued visiting when he was older. “I liked the school enough, I remember when I’d go out for a horseback ride, I would drop by.” Schoolmate Jacobs says he did yardwork for Ros. “I lived just down the street.” Anne Thacher had a continuing relationship as well. “My mother was a close friend of Mrs. Ros’ so I saw her a lot during my childhood years.”
Among Thacher’s memories is her appreciation for how Ros prepared the students for their eventual careers, and life in general. “She prepared me very well for going on to school,” Anne Thacher says, speaking specifically of Ros’ hiring of a separate math teacher for her, the only student in the fifth grade. “I had sort of a math minor in college, and chemistry. I have a Masters in Chemistry from Berkeley and worked in research for a couple of years. Then, I wound up teaching junior college in San Francisco, then high school chemistry in Ojai.”
A Multigenerational Experience
Perhaps the best testimony to these and other early student’s love for the school, is the fact that their families, some now into third generations, have continued to send their children to Monica Ros. “We sent our two children to the school,” Anne Thacher says, “and we have five grandchildren, all have spent time in Monica Ros School.”
Davis’ family has a similar history with the school. “My son was on the board, and his son, who is now going into 10th grade at Ojai Valley School, went through Monica Ros School.”
Over the school’s 75 years, current students in any given year are curious concerning what it was like attending Monica Ros those first few years, and there are always many questions for the original students when they visit and share their experiences. Davis recalls such a question. “Tony Thacher and I were invited to come up and talk to the kids about what it was like in the old days. A little hand went up, innocent eyes looked up. ‘Did you all wear shoes?’ was the question we got.”
It could be said, in fact, that these students from decades ago are rather like celebrities in the newer students’ minds, but Monica Ros herself achieves stardom during Founder’s Day month every year. “They get the idea that she’s a person,” Director Hardenburgh says, “and someone will always ask if she’s buried there, under the bust out in front.” But the true proof of her celebrity status appears at performance time. “We have a play that first graders do about American heroes,” Hardenburgh, says, adding that the role of their founder is coveted, and all the children want to play her. “Monica Ros is very popular. They have to pull sticks.”