Over the last four decades, some 1,200 of Malibu’s youngest residents were proud to call “Miss Shari” their teacher. In fact, “Miss Shari,” Shari Latta, was probably the first teacher any of these “littles” ever had in their education attending Latta’s highly regarded Malibu preschool, Children’s Creative Workshop.
CCW was forced to close its doors in June after losing its lease from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. The beloved Malibu preschool was founded 40 years ago by Latta, who dreamed of opening a preschool after working during her teenage years as a preschool assistant. “I found that I had a lot of ideas,” the 60-year Malibu resident reminisced about creative teaching methods she wanted to employ that weren’t in the curriculum of the local preschools where she worked after college.
In 1982 Latta secured a spot at what was then known as the Malibu Community Center on the grounds of the old shuttered Point Dume Elementary School. In the mid-1990s when enough children were able to support another public school in the neighborhood, CCW was able to keep its space when the campus reopened as Point Dume Marine Science School. The preschool was always a nonprofit, finally incorporating in 1987 as a 501c3. In 2019, CCW moved to the campus of Juan Cabrillo Elementary when the two elementary schools combined and reopened in Point Dume as Malibu Elementary School. Latta, who was aware of plans to raze JCE for construction of a new Malibu High School campus, explored other location options for CCW. Unfortunately, after an exhaustive search Latta was unable to secure an appropriate spot for a small preschool.
“I don’t think we left much untouched,” she commented on finding a new location. She said she’s disappointed SMMUSD “didn’t want to help me with space either at Webster or Point Dume claiming there is no extra space.”
CCW proved popular with Malibu parents who were attracted by Latta’s methods of learning in a dynamic and creative, loving environment. CCW used a weekly thematic science-based curriculum. “The science is taught through music and art,” Latta explained. “Almost all of the themes which include a lot of marine science, geography, wildlife, biology, Malibu history and the Chumash is taught through art and song.” Latta and other teachers wrote scores of songs that highlight those themes. Latta said, “It helps the children remember.”
Forty years of smiling little faces, learning, laughter and love came to a close June 10.
“It was very emotional and very hard,” Latta disclosed. “It felt as if I left unfinished business. I closed my doors on families that still had preschoolers that needed a preschool, and younger siblings that would’ve come to us. I feel like I let a lot of families down. The feeling of letting people down and future families I’d like to help, that was the hardest thing for my heart and my soul.”
The Malibu Times asked Latta about her impact on young lives throughout the decades in her hometown.
“I do feel really good about that,” she reflected. “I’m pretty humbled by people who come back and say, ‘You know you really helped me and really made a difference.’”
For 30 years, Latta has also been a Junior Lifeguard instructor. TMT spoke with her after a morning teaching 9- to 11-year-olds in “the ways of the ocean, riptides, and marine life.” Three of her supervisors are her former preschoolers and several former students are training with her this summer at Zuma.
“That makes me feel fantastic,” she said.
Former preschoolers have returned as aides. Others who now have their own children have brought them to CCW where they grew up.
“I’ve gone through generations and that makes me feel really good,” she said.
A lot of these students showed up June 12 for an open house. Alumni families were able to reminisce over old yearbooks and say goodbye. Dru Ann Jacobson, a former CCW teacher, organized the event attended by nearly 100 people. “They’re going to miss her terribly,” Jacobson said. Malibu City Council awarded Latta a commendation.
Expect Latta to be instructing little ones in art, music and science this fall at Our Lady of Malibu School. “I’m thrilled about it,” she said of bringing her curriculum to OLM’s newly expanded preschool.
The educator concluded choked with emotion, “I’m grateful for the trust that families had in me with their amazing children here in Malibu.”