Topanga Mountain School

knowledge naturally

A unique and innovative program that provides for a solid academic foundation in core subjects, inspires a love of learning and cultivates compassionate, well-rounded citizens.

Mountain Mail: 3/26/19

Hi Everyone,

I hope you had a restful weekend after all our excitement on Friday night. It was such a pleasure to see so many of you. Thank you all for contributing to the fun - selling goodies and tickets and providing all the delicious food. And thank you to Cheryl and Max (Nate’s parents) for organizing and to Caitlin and Josh (Will’s parents) for donating all the wine we consumed! These are really tangible ways in which you help support and make our program possible.

And thank you for your lovely children who were so willing to put themselves out there, raw and unfiltered. In this age of mediated messages it is a wondrous thing to see such vulnerability and honesty. They may not quite grasp that yet, but they are brave and beautiful and for that I am very grateful. Working day in and out with that authenticity is an honor. And it is what I love about TMS. We are such an eclectic bunch and all of us need to be - and are - accepted and celebrated.

I have very few pictures, but I am hoping you may all have some stills and footage. If you have please stop by my office and airdrop them to me, or send in an email, or on a flash drive with your child. I will post when I have a collection to share. For now here is a few I took.

This week and next

We are now into our special two week unit about Man’s Relationship with Nature. The students are spending time out and about observing and noting ecological succession and the effects of wild fires and the landscape at certain stages of regrowth. They are learning about Taoism, and analyzing Mary Poppins as well as reading from Emerson, Muir and Thoreau while they are in nature itself. Our upcoming camping trip is an extension of this unit and we will be continuing to explore these themes as we enjoy the delights of the Santa Barbara back country, a place that has seen it own share of ecological changes due to fires and erosion over the last several years.

Tomorrow - Wednesday

Drop off and pick up at school at normal times 8:15am and 3:10pm respectively (carpools as usual). Students will be heading out to the San Gabriel Mountains to Vetter Mountain Outlook as part of their studies. Please make sure your child has snacks, packed lunch, full water bottles and hiking footwear.


Students will be on campus all day (ask them over dinner to explain how Mary Poppins and Taoism relate). In the morning they will also be taking their Math Final. Please check in with them to make sure they have been studying and are prepared!


We will be heading out to Point Mugu for further field observations. Students will need snacks, a packed lunch full water bottles and appropriate footwear (they will be in the canyon and at the beach).

Drop off at school at 8:15 or at Pine Tree Circle at 9:00am

Pick up at Pine Tree Circle at 3:15pm and at school at 3:30pm.

Monday April 1st

NO SCHOOL Cesar Chavez Day

Tuesday April 2nd - Friday 5th - Camping-Sage Hill, Santa Barbara

On Tuesday morning we are off on our Spring camping trip and the second week of our special unit. I am hopeful after all this rain we will find green hills, as well as the creek and our favorite swimming spots full of water!! I am so looking forward to spending this time in nature with your children.

Please find the Informational letter and packing list HERE and the Release Form HERE.

Please return the release along with your payment to the school office.

Monday April 8th - Friday April 19 - NO SCHOOL Spring Break

School resumes Monday April 22nd.

Happy Days!!


Mountain Mail 3/14/19

Dear Parents,

Yesterday we had a wonderful morning as members of our extended family - current parents, past parents, alumni students and community friends - came together to show their support for our school and partake in our thank you breakfast. It was such a pleasure to witness old friends reconnecting and new friendships being forged.

We are eternally grateful to William and Jessie (Sebastian’s parents) for opening their restaurant and preparing such a delicious spread for TMS. Please show your support of them by making Topanga Table your go to lunch and breakfast spot - I can highly recommend it!!

It was also a perfect opportunity to raise much needed funds for our school. We are so grateful to all of you for stepping up and donating. Thank you! Thank you! We have had a great response with an 85% participation from our current parents - BUT I would love to make that 100% before we put this fundraiser to bed. It is so not about the amount, but about the intent. If you have yet to donate please take the time to do so now, how ever much you can afford. Thank you.

We were sorry that not all of you could make it on a weekday morning, but we intend to follow up with an evening fundraiser later in the year, this time with wine and hors d'oeuvres. I think everyone who has worked a typical fundraising event will agree that getting together like this is much more fun!

Other news

We have another new student!! Welcome to Adugna and his parents Kathleen and David. So happy to have you all as part of the TMS family. Liz will send out an updated roster next week.

Coming up - this week and beyond

Friday - Tomorrow

Students will be splitting their time between music on campus and rock climbing/hiking at Saddle Peak.

  • Drop off and pick up at regular time at school, 8:15 and 3:30. (Carpools as usual.)

  • All students should have appropriate footwear - they know what that is - as well as snacks, packed lunch and full water bottle.

  • Students should also bring their musical instruments.

Friday March 22nd - Coffee House Music Performance Class Act Musical Theatre - 5345 Wilhelmina Ave Woodland Hills. Doors open at 6:30pm and curtain up at 7:00pm.

Every year we culminate our music trimester as the kids bring music they have learned at school to the stage. This year we originally planned to have the event at an outside venue, but with the evenings still so cold we have struggled to know how to handle it. Now we have finally decided - and warmth wins out! We are bringing the event indoors. So….

Please join us for a fun night of entertainment and community at Class Act Musical Theatre! Drinks, light appetizers and desserts will be available for purchase before the show and during intermission.

Please look out for a Sign up Genius asking for your contribution of desserts as well as help manning the door and the concessions. Max and Cheryl Cambras are our go to parents for this event. Thank you both for taking thi

Tuesday March 26th - Dress Up as your Parent Day

It has been a while since we had a Spirit Day at school, but now the sun is out it is time for us to have some fun. We have asked the kids to come as one of their parents - so don’t be surprised if your wardrobe is ransacked!! Parents, you may dress up as your kids too. Either show up at school as a pair or send in a photo of you both together. Prize for the best child /parent swap!!

Monday April 1st - Cesar Chavez Day NO SCHOOL

Tuesday April 2nd - 5th - Spring Camping and Science Field Study. Sage Hill Campground, Santa Barbara. Details to follow closer to date.

Monday April 8th - Friday 19th - Spring Break - NO SCHOOL

Photos of our week

Enjoying our Breadwinner inspired feasts!

Enjoying the great outdoors!

Building a Picnic Bench!

Mountain Mail 3/11/19

Dear Parents,

Suddenly we are on a count down to a very busy next few weeks!

This Wednesday 13th is our Fundraising Breakfast. I am jumping straight in to this as we need to talk turkey.

  • First of all - are you coming? We need a final count. Please go to your evite and let us know.

  • Secondly, this is our only fundraiser for the school year. In past years we have asked our parents to give not only money but a serious time and energy commitment. Many of you know what a silent auction and dinner can entail: getting items to auction, selling tickets to attend as well as raffle tickets and then actually spending money buying those same items back at the event. This year we decided to keep it simple - for you.

  • All you need to do is write a check or donate HERE.

  • Our goal is to raise $30,000 with this drive. We need everyone of you to make this happen.

  • So far we have raised only $3375 through evite + $2080 directly from our website (and $2000 of this is from a single donation). We are so grateful to those of you who have contributed but as you can see this falls seriously short of the money we need to stay solvent this year.

  • TMS prides its self on its homegrown sustainability, but monies raised through fundraising events and family donations are vital to that sustainability. This year we are struggling to meet our budgetary requirements. We have had very little opportunity to come together to raise money; our other main event, the Harvest Festival, was cancelled because of the fires. This is it. Please do your part.

  • Not only donate yourself but approach grandparents and family members who recognize the difference that TMS has made in your lives and ask them to give.

  • Most private schools offer less experiences for a lot more money. Your donation is acknowledgment that you value what we do and the education you have chosen for your children.

Thank you.

now take a look at what we have been up to over this last couple of weeks…….

Hiking the Mishe Mokwa Trail: Echo Cliffs and Sandstone Peak

Malibu Creek State Park - GREEN AND Awash with water!!

More mountain biking pics - obviously the place Katie takes her camera out the most!!

And it does seem that standing on desks is a large part of our pedagogy….

More photos of Tasty Tuesday!

Mountain Mail 2/28/19

Dear Parents, 

I’m feeling profoundly connected to my English roots at the moment as, once again, I find myself discussing the weather!! They say a good British conversation about the weather has in fact a deeper significance and is really an insight into the person’s state of being. Be that the case or not, the weather has been a major consideration of recent weeks and continues to be a deciding factor in what we do on Wednesdays and Fridays and how we handle other outdoor activities. We are having to respond to the weather as it shifts, day to day - it really does feel like living in England!  And yes, I am a little drizzly and grey and could use some brightening up myself.

So here is how it stands as of now.....

Friday 3/1 - Hike

Tomorrow our plan is to hike one of my favorite local trails, the Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. This is a beautiful inspiring trail that provides for many different experiences within the one loop. 

We will be setting off collectively from school and returning there afterwards. Please drop off and pick up at school 8:15 and 3:30 respectively. 

It is a full day's hike. Please make sure your child has an energy inducing snack, a healthy packed lunch, 2 full water bottles - and of course the ever important, good hiking footwear. Tomorrow a rain-shell might also be a good idea :) 

Community Hike - Sunday 3/3

Cancelled - it does seem that the weekend will have consistent rain and once again we will have to push our plans. Stay tuned for a new date. 

Upcoming in March

Fundraising Breakfast - Wednesday March 13th 
I hope you have all received your invitation to our first ever Fundraising Breakfast at Topanga Table. We are so grateful to Sebastian's family (William and Jessie) for their generosity. Topanga Table is truly a Topanga treasure and an absolute treat for delicious, carefully sourced food. The atmosphere is wonderful and a perfect compliment to the heart and spirit of TMS. 

We hope you can join us, and we also hope you take the time to show your support through a financial donation.

This year we have chosen not to have the labor intensive silent auction or other more traditional fundraising efforts. Instead we would like to come together to thank you, celebrate TMS, and make the act of raising much needed funds as easy as taking out your pen and check book, or pressing a button on line.

This invite has gone out to our greater community, but we would like to encourage you to send the donation link to grandparents, family members and friends who you feel would be willing to give. Every donation, from $20 to $20,000, makes a difference. Whatever the size, the show of support is greatly appreciated. 

Coffee House Music and Dance Showcase- Friday March 22nd Save the Date. Details to follow. We are still looking for the ideal location... if you have any ideas send them my way!


There is a particular core group of children at school that love to play basketball - and they are good! They play at every opportunity.

In the past we had a TMS basketball team and I would love to do this again. I am looking into us joining a small charter school league so that we can actually play real games. But the missing factor is a coach or two!!

Last time we had a couple of passionate parents who took on the team. Practices were largely after school and we all turned out to cheer and support at games. 

Could you be one of our new coaches? Don't be shy!!

I'm determined to get this going and I need your help and support.

More Fun Photos

TMS students out and about enjoying our beautiful lush green mountains!

And here are some extra Grammy Museum pics that didn’t make it into last week’s gallery!

Mountain Mail 2/19/19

So much has happened in February already. I’m glad it is a short month. Despite some happy times it is also proving challenging and heartbreaking in so many ways.

For our returning parents you will have already received my email regarding the death of our friend and fellow parent, Amy Lichtenstein. Amy’s son Ben graduated from TMS last year. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, husband Steve, Ben, and daughter, Ali.

Please see the schedule for Friday as the whole staff wishes to support the family and pay their final respects at the memorial that afternoon. The service will be at Mt. Sinai in Simi Valley at 2:00 pm.

February started though with a inspired and thoughtful trip to the Museum of Tolerance where the children showed once again their ability to connect and reflect on such an important subject. As usual, we heard wonderful feedback from the Museum on the demeanor and respect of our student body. Always a proud moment.

The rain continued to throw a few wrenches in our Wednesday and Friday plans, but hopefully these blue skies will stay with us and we can return to a more predictable rhythm. You may even know what we are doing in advance!

This week

This Wednesday we will be back on the Mesa so please drop off at school at 8:15am or at Pine Tree at 8:40am or directly at the Mesa at 8:50am. Pick up at school at 3:30pm - cooking class participants at 4:00pm

This Friday Half Day. Please pick up your child at 12 noon. Thank you for understanding.


The weather may be starting to cooperate but unfortunately we are kind of a man down…..

Kristine broke her foot last Friday and it needs a lot of tender loving care to avoid surgery. Despite her ever cheery persona and the bag of peas, it is still a major break.

Kristine will teach most of her classes, but she is obviously out of commission for Wednesdays and Fridays and, if it proves too taxing, other days as well. Kristine will need driving everywhere and will be limited in much that she can do.

Your patience and help will be gratefully appreciated.

Valentine’s Dance

Our Valentine’s Dance was a resounding success. Having been at all of them over the years, this one particularly struck me with its sense of collectiveness. Everyone truly had a great time.

A huge thank you for actually making the night run like a charm and ensuring the kids had so much fun, must go to Tate Ammons (Jack’s dad). Tate did a masterful job as the DJ!! Thanks for pulling together the music and being the one adult who really got the full experience with our kids.

Thank you and Valentine’s love to those wonderful women who organized the whole thing. Wendy Hecht, Wendy Rissman and Anne Lombardo! They led the charge with their team of trusty helpers: Steve Ackrich and his magical photo booth, Vince Lombardo, Sharon Barkan, Stephanie Tavelman, Kathy Gordon, Cindy Hitchcock, and Shannon Meyers (who came with two can-do guys in tow!) and my personal valentine, Antonio. We had a host of great chaperones too, thank you Frank Tavelman, AJ and Lesley Webster, Sue Palmeri, and our newest addition to the TMS family, Marc and Blossom Shores. Thank you Blossom for all the photos below, no easy task! Finally always deep appreciation for Cindy and Bobby Espinoza, clean up aficionados. Bobby stays until the last light is turned off and the last door is locked.

Truly incredible team work… thank you

New Family Members

As I mentioned we have a new family at TMS! Welcome Sienna and her parents, Marc and Blossom. We are so happy to have you as part of the TMS family. And so glad you got to meet many of your fellow parents on Thursday night.

TMS students doing their thing!!

Despite the rain, there were some opportunities to enjoy the beautiful outdoors.

Here are some snaps of Mountain Biking and three “the rain won’t stop us” funster at Malibu Creek State Park.

Another clear and fabulous LA day included a trip to the Griffith Observatory - on James Dean’s birthday no less!

And finally, here is Marcelle’s class showing us math in action. They are so proud!!

Happenings in our Community


This Saturday Cecilie (our dance teacher) has an event for her non-profit, Move The World.

Always lots of fun, especially if the Valentine’s Dance got you in the mood!!

Mountain Mail: 1/30/19

Dear Friends.

We’re back! It was a busy start to the new year and it is hard to believe we are already at the end of January!

At school we are now settling into the rhythm of our music trimester; as I type the sound of drumming is all around me… Every student is taking three core classes: performance, dance and music history and appreciation. They have also chosen from a variety of classes to take as electives: ukulele, piano, drumming, vocals, songwriting, and electronic music! We look forward to hearing what they come up with as the weeks unfold.

We also have other electives rounding out this trimester; on Monday and Tuesday you will find students in either sewing, knitting, drawing, creative writing, cooking or woodwork. Campus is a busy place!! Stayed tuned for photos of all the happenings in future MMs.

January saw our Navigation Unit, our trip to the snow at Angelus Oaks, more great lunches, and my birthday!!

Hope you enjoy this visual ride through the month….

Read all the way to the end for important dates and Friday’s field trip.

IMG_0612 2.JPG

Beautiful offerings from our parents…..

Wendy (Aubrey’s mom) (along with her chickens) makes eggs a work of art! They taste incredible too.

Deborah, whose Tuesday lunch fare is so well loved and received, (your kids are eating heartily and healthily) is making fresh pasture-raised bone broth with organic veggies and Himalayan pink salt.

$10/quart - And all proceeds go back into the TMS lunch program! Its a win win!!


The first two weeks of January saw us immersed in navigation. Students spent their mornings planning and learning and the afternoons executing their skills. And we didn’t lose anyone!






Drop off and pick up at school, regular times. Carpools as usual. Packed lunch, water bottles and appropriate attire.


Message from our Wendy and Wendy… This is a supervised, parent run dance.  Students can bring friends but we do ask for them to get approval first and provide a signed waiver for any non TMS student attending.  Last year's dance was great fun...let's make this 2019 Valentine's Day Dance unforgettable!  Your organizers this year are Wendy Hecht and Wendy Rissman.  We would so appreciate your participation to help us make this dance a success.  


We need volunteers for:

Chaperones  (5) dress warmly as we will be outside much of the time

Decorators for setup (4) please begin at 3:30 p.m., some heavy table lifting

Sound system setup (1)

Clean up crew (4) which will begin at 9:00 sharp, more heavy table lifting

Please contact Wendy Rissman at to sign up

School dismissal on February 14th is as usual at 3:30 p.m.  Since the party begins at 7 p.m., please feed your kids dinner prior.  Snacks and treats will be available at the dance.  The students can dress in their nicest attire.  Tickets are $15.00 which will cover all costs.  Please remit by February 7th.  Thanks so much!







Christina Sibul… alumni parent has just produced this movie…


I was wondering if I could invite the TMS kids to a test screening of a movie I just produced. It's a rough cut, but we're looking for feedback from teenagers to help us figure out what plays and what doesn't. It has some pretty severe issues addressed in it -- bullying, teen obesity, depression and suicide, but the movie is mostly comedic in tone (there is a suicide attempt portrayed in it though). The movie is unrated, but is a safe PG-13 -- no nudity, no real swearing.  It's adapted from a Young Adult Novel by the same name BUTTER, by Erin Jade Lange, and here's the brief plot of the movie: A lonely obese teenager everyone calls "Butter" is about to make history. He is going to eat himself to death, live on the Internet, and everyone is invited to watch. When he first makes the announcement online to his classmates, Butter expects pity, insults, and possibly sheer indifference. What he gets are cheerleaders rallying around his deadly plan. Yet as their dark encouragement grows, it begins to feel a lot like popularity. And that feels good. But what happens when Butter reaches his suicide deadline? Can he live with the fallout if he doesn't go through with his plans?

kid power.png

And for our younger students….. from our friend Peter Alsop.

Mountain Mail: 1/8/19

Hi everyone – we’re back!!

I hope that everyone had a restorative winter break. This year the theme for many seemed to be to keep things simple, including myself. My time was spent relaxing at home with a brief four day Christmas celebration in San Francisco. I have reached that wonderful (st)age where I am now hosted by my own children and get to experience, once again, the joy of a Christmas with small (grand)children still full of believe and wonder.

Art Show and End of Year Party

Our own end of the year TMS celebration and the Art Show set the stage wonderfully for this joyous holiday season. It was such a pleasure to come together as a community, something we have had little chance to do this year. The students created an inspiring art show/workshop. Thank you Kristine for, as always, elevating and generating real conversation and action around the medium, as well as providing the space and guidance for the children to produce such stunning thoughtful art.

Thanks to all of you for bringing great food and great energy. Thanks to Lori Mellman for always making sure the party happens and shepherding us all along.  Special thanks to Geoff Seelinger and John Coy for supporting Kristine in curating the show. Thanks to Lise Lauer for making the place look so festive and to Angela Lindvall for helping her with the set up. Thanks to Cindy Hitchcock and Bobby Espinoza for always cleaning up and making the end of the day an easy one for us, and once again to Geoff for staying with me to the bitter end.  And thanks of course to Liz who is there through out making sure it all gets done.

Finally, the biggest gratitude to all of you for honoring the work the staff has done this year with your kind words and your incredibly generous gifts. Thank you, thank you.


2019!! Happy New Year!!

It has been great to get back to school. This two weeks leading up to our trip to Big Bear the students are engaged in a special unit on Awareness and Navigation. I hope you have all had a chance to check out the booklet for the unit. The children are spending a great deal of time outside and are off campus most days doing field work relating to what they have been learning in the classroom.  

Tomorrow, Wednesday will be a full day hike (Calabasas Peak)

as will Friday (Stage Coach Trail, Simi Valley).

Please make sure your child has a couple of full water bottles, snacks, a good packed lunch and of course appropriate footwear and clothing for both days.

Drop off and pick up all week is at school at 8:15 and 3:30 respectively (regular carpools).

Here are some photos from our first week back….

Big Bear Winter Retreat!

On Wednesday the 16th we will head off on our adventure in the snow – and there will be a ton of it!!

This is a very different kind of trip for us. Instead of rolling out our vans we rent a bus to take us collectively, instead of sleeping in the open air we stay in warm cozy cabins and instead of cooking all our own food we get fabulously well fed by the staff at Alpine Meadows.

We spend our time playing in the snow, sledding, building snowmen, having snowball fights and we get to adventure on a rock climbing and high ropes course. In the evenings we gather around the fire playing games. All of this made even more exciting when done in exquisite flurries of snow. Truly a magical trip.

Please make sure your child comes well equipped to enjoy the snow. Being dry and warm makes all the difference. Water proof pants and boots are essential.

I know not everyone has all the gear – but maybe we could help each other out? If you have items to share I would love to hear from you. If you desperately need something let me know. Hopefully I can do some match making.

All the information for the trip can be found here.

Letter with cost and logistics.

A packing list.

Release - Please sign and return

Mark Your Calendar:

Thursday Jan 9th Director’s Tea – Room 10. Please RSVP

Sunday February 3rd Monthly Community Hike. Nike Missile Hike, Reseda

Monday 21st – NO SCHOOL Martin Luther King Jr Day.

Other things to know….

No Study Hall next Tuesday.

Check out the video on the “Our School” page of the website.

Mountain Mail: 12/17/18

Dear Friends,

Here we are in the last school days of the calendar year. Despite all the challenges of this last month we made it! As this year comes to a close another year full of its own adventures will be waiting for us! Bring it on 2019!!

My last epic Mountain Mail never made it to the page and instead this photo heavy montage will tell the story. I am looking forward to seeing you all Wednesday where I can thank you all in person for all you do.

Wednesday - our last day of school for 2018!!

During the day student will be at campus full of festive spirit. There is no mesa so regular times and school carpool hours apply for Topanga.

Gift Exchange ~ Students will also exchange gifts. Please make sure your child remembers to bring theirs so everyone has one. Presents should be wrapped and then placed in plain old bags so we can't see who shows up with which. Remind your child not to write their your own name on the gift. A huge part of the fun is guessing who brought it for you!!

Wednesday evening: Art Show and Holiday Party ~ 6pm onwards

Canoga Park Youth Art Center ~ 7222 Remmet Avenue, Canoga Park. 

I hope you all have received the Potluck Sign-up Genius from Lori and have added your name. The art show and party is a lovely way to round out the calendar year. So looking forward to seeing everyone there.

Winter Break: Thurs Dec. 19th - Wed Jan. 2nd.

School resumes Thursday January 3rd.

The last couple of weeks in photos…..

Friday: Hammer Museum and The Fowler!