The Carpe Diem Spirit 

Being willing to Carpe Diem, or "seize the day", may be as simple as taking a challenging bike ride or as complex as pursuing a particularly interesting topic of research. We believe it is not enough simply to do what is expected; an ideal student seeks greater opportunities and adds a positive spirit to the school on a daily basis. Stretching yourself is the rule, not the exception.  Real growth involves taking risks-- trying something that's outside your comfort zone and taking on a challenge even if you're not quite sure you'll succeed.  To help our students reach their highest potential, we teach the growth mindset.  So, whether it's learning to balance equations or sink jump shots, compose poetry or scale a rock face, student here know it just a matter of time and practice to reach any goal.  

"Hands-on classes and experiential learning at Dunn Middle School were game changers for my classmates and me.  We're in dream jobs or in graduate schools and we give a lot of credit to DMS." - Billy Csete, Middle School '02, Upper School '06, Web Developer at Apple

Take a moment to browse through some of the signature Dunn Middle School experiences below, all of which are designed to challenge, inspire, connect, and support our students as they learn and grow.


Parents and students love our enrichment program, and for good reason.  It's the ultimate menu of exploration, adventure and risk-taking.  Every six weeks, students choose three enrichment classes and begin to discover something new about the world.  In a typical year, we offer over 60 different elective classes.  While there are some requirements, there are many choices as well.  Students typically take 12 enrichments every year.  Past offerings included:

Animal Behavior
Bird Watching
Mandarin Language
Rock Band


All middle school students, faculty and staff participate in a 44-mile bike ride called the Piece o' Cake Bike Ride.  We believe that every student is capable of completing this given adequate training and determination, and it is our goal to ensure that all students feel capable of completing this challenging ride by March.  

At the end of the year, the 8th graders complete the Ride of Passage.  This 80+ mile bike trip includes a night of bonding and camping on the beach.

Experiential Weeks

We kick off the year with the All-Middle School Camping Trip in Monterey.  Daytime classes and fun evening group activities serve to bring the DMS community together.  

During the Fall Experiential Week, the 8th graders spend five days in the San Francisco area and begin work on their Capstone Projects.  The 7th graders head to Pinnacles National Monument to explore caves, rock climb, and hike.  The 6th graders remain on campus and undertake a program developing leadership and personal passions.

During the Spring Experiential Week, the 8th graders head to Joshua Tree National Park to backpack and rock climb.  The 6th graders journey to inland national parks.  The 7th graders are based on campus and go through a curriculum that emphasizes leadership and the upcoming transition to 8th grade. 


Each year, every middle school student has a two or three day internship with a local business.  With the guidance of their faculty mentors, students volunteer to work or shadow at a local business that they are interested in knowing about    The goal is for students to observe and/or experience an average day in the life of a person in a particular career.  Past internships have occurred at local:

Animal Hospitals
Art Studios
Book Stores


Special Events

We hold a variety of academically focused events throughout the year.  A few of these include:

Astronomy Night

Chess Tournament

El Mercado Festival

Humanities Festival

Middle School Science Fair

Portfolio Presentation


Try-athlon & Track Meet

In October, all students take part in the "Try-athlon," a swimming, biking and running event with a focus on participation and doing one's best.  

In the May, all students participate in a Santa Ynez Valley-Wide Track Meet.

Middle School "Families"

Each full-time faculty member at the middle school acts as an advisor to a "family" of students.  These advisors serves as a mentors, supervisors, and role models for their advisees, helping them successfully meet the challenges of adolescence and the daily and yearly expectations at Dunn School.  Advisors are advocates for their advisees.  Middle School "Families" support one another and serve as cheerleaders when one of their members meets with success.  Students check in with their advisors every day.

Fun Activities

Middle school students, faculty and staff members also enjoy several fun activities during several school day and evenings throughout the year. We start things off with a Middle School Pool Party on campus in August to welcome the students to school.

Popular events in the past have included the Middle School Revue (where students shared their hidden and not-so-hidden talents), Pancakes 'n Pajamas Day, themed dances, Fun Nite (organized and run by student government), Serendipity Day, a Spring Formal and more!

The 8th Grade Experience

Our 8th graders enjoy a year that is designed to cultivate a growing sense of independence and ease the transition between middle and high school.  In the first semester they head to San Francisco and in the second semester they spend time in Joshua Tree National Park.  As a class, they also spend time on several projects and events, including Capstone, the Ride of Passage, and Graduation Speeches.


Capstone Project:  The 8th graders carve out space and time within the heart of San Francisco to delve deeper into their strengths and areas of wonder.  They start big, then whittle down to issues and values that matter most. They embark upon a multi-month journey exploring a relevant problem or issue.  In the spring, they present their problem-question-action process to their peers, research coaches, research mentors, and the larger community.  This model binds cross-curricular strands from previous years into a fresh, student-driven course of research and action.


Ride of Passage: At the end of May, the 8th graders complete the Ride of Passage.  This 80+ mile bike trip includes a night of bonding and camping on the beach.


Graduation Speeches: Every 8th grader prepares and delivers a three to five minute speech at graduation.  These speeches span a variety of topics, but a common theme is personal growth.