Scholars of Their Surroundings

Pictured, from left: Candace Bond McKeever, Malibu Foundation Board of Directors chairperson; scholarship winners Madison Ford, Frankie Cloete, Jessica Laubender and Georgia Knox; Joe Flanigan, Malibu Foundation Board of Directors

Childhoods spent on the beach, tidepool field trips at Point Dume Marine Science School and experiencing the effects of climate change through the Woolsey Fire have fostered a fascination with the environment in four Malibu High School seniors. Now, with the help of a scholarship from the Malibu Foundation, Frankie Cloete, Madison Ford, Jessica Laubender and Georgia Knox will continue learning about the Earth in schools up and down the West Coast.

Local nonprofit The Malibu Foundation was established to help the community rebuild after 2018’s devastating Woolsey Fire. The scholarship that Cloete, Ford, Laubender and Knox won was only established this year. Each of the four will receive $2,000 to pursue degrees in an array of fields, but all with an environmental focus. 

Cloete, for example, is planning to study sociology and anthropology at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, with an emphasis on environmental sociology. She is still figuring out what she wants to do with her degree, but thinks being an environmental sociologist sounds fascinating.

Cloete remembers fondly attending Point Dume Marine Science School (now Malibu Elementary). “We would have field trips to the tide pools, we’d survey different things and bring our little clipboards and I really saw how important the natural world around us is. Even having fish tanks in our classroom that really, maybe unknowingly at the time, made me interested in the environment,” Cloete said.

Cloete chose Lewis and Clark because of its emphasis on students gaining a global perspective. She was looking forward to participating in its East Africa study abroad program, where she will learn Swahili and immerse herself deeply in another culture. 

But first, Cloete and her MHS peers have to graduate. In any other year, that would entail a celebration. But this year, graduation is more a feat of strength. 

Malibu High’s class of 2021 has only ever had one full year of school: their freshman year, another scholarship recipient, Georgia Knox, explained. Sophomore year brought Woolsey, then with junior and senior year came COVID-19 and online learning. 

Knox, who is the ASB (the MHS version of student council) president, looks at those fragmented years of schooling as a period during which her class came together. “That was the time where everyone started connecting with each other more. We all started to realize, ‘OK, literally our whole community is going through it right now,’” she said. 

As ASB president, Knox, along with her friend Sam Palmer, the senior class president, has spent hours working with the moms of seniors to plan events that bring her classmates together while still adhering to COVID-19 restrictions, such as a drive-in movie for the seniors. 

Movies are something Knox knows a lot about. She studied the history of films all throughout high school and part of middle school; at MHS, Knox worked on Shark TV as an anchor and an editor. 

At UC-Santa Barbara, Knox will double major in environmental studies and film and media studies. She hopes to become a filmmaker who produces work with a heavy emphasis on the environment. 

Similarly, Madison Ford, another scholarship recipient, will combine her environmental studies with a nonscience. Ford will pursue two majors next year: marine and coastal science, and public service and communications. She hopes to become a journalist with a focus on marine science.

Ford learned about the Malibu Foundation scholarship through an email from her counselor. “It didn’t even occur to me that there would be an environmental scholarship,” she said. “I immediately wanted to apply.”

The application process required a resume and an essay, Ford said. She wrote about teaching children about nine different female scientists, which took more than a year of planning.

Ford will be up north at UC-Davis—not far from classmate Jessica Laubender, the final scholarship recipient, who will study environmental science at CSU-Chico (known better as Chico State). In her essay, Laubender wrote about feeding the homeless and helping them get the nutrition they need. 

Laubender said she found out about winning the scholarship via email. 

“I didn’t think I would win it, honestly,” she said. She added that she is looking forward to Chico, where she is excited to meet new people and experience a different environment—she spoke excitedly of the beautiful creek running through campus—compared to Malibu, where she has spent her whole life. 

“We are super proud of these students for their hard work in school and their passion to continue working hard for the betterment of our world,” the Malibu Foundation said in a press release.