The Muse School gets a digital platform with an environmental twist.
If you ask Suzy Amis Cameron about her life’s purpose, she’ll crack a smile, even during the biggest health crisis of our time.
The actress-turned-eco-entrepreneur has a lot to smile about. She’s got her hands in a lot of pots — but they’re all mixing up bits of an interconnected story. There’s her plant-based One Meal a Day book and campaign; the eco Red Carpet Green Dress initiative; a plant-based pea protein processing facility in Canada; a family of five kids; and a hard-working husband you’ve probably heard of: Avatar and Titanic director James (“Jim”) Cameron. But it may be her work in reimagining primary education that just might be her legacy.
Along with her husband and her sister Rebecca, Cameron helms the Muse School in Calabasas, California, located on the hilly outer edges of LA’s Santa Monica mountains. But these days, the school can be accessed from anywhere on the planet. Muse took its innovative learning model online after COVID-19 lockdown closed California schools in March. It’s now offering the classes remotely across the globe.
Cameron was hours away from leaving her Santa Barbara ranch for New Zealand where Jim was busy shooting the Avatar sequel when we caught up via Zoom.
“The whole [film] industry may have to move to New Zealand,” she says. She’s speaking about the near-eradication of COVID-19 the island nation has achieved under Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s direction. Suzy and Jim and the kids have spent a lot of time on that island, their home away from home. They’re land owners there and have worked to bring more plant-based food offerings to New Zealand through their local farm and market.
A New Model for Learning
Plant-based food is a big part of Cameron’s story. She went vegan in 2012 after watching the documentary Forks Over Knives, and Jim, a longtime meat-eater, soon followed. They never looked back. They’ve both used their Hollywood influence to bring awareness to the climate crises. Suzy helms the Red Carpet Green Dress campaign that works with A-listers to get them to go sustainable with their award season wardrobes. Jim and Arnold Schwarzenneger teamed up in a 2016 WildAid ad pointing to the link between climate change and meat consumption. Then, in 2019, he executive-produced the documentary “The Game Changers,” which looked at the health impact of plant-based diets on the world’s top athletes.
But as parents to five children collectively, the Muse school, and education in general, is the couple’s biggest calling. “My personal mission statement is to make the world a better place for all of our children,” she says. Muse is, well, her muse in that mission.
“Muse has been a journey,” she says. The eco school’s lush mountainous backdrop has always been a suited match to its lush curriculum — nurturing the students in passion-led education. The K-12 school focuses on the individual student rather than heavy cookie-cutter coursework models. For example, Muse may match kids with mentors in their aspirational career fields, steering them toward a better understanding and the real-world experiences of what that career path may look like. The teachers will then build custom learning models to match that student’s needs and interests.
Muse takes a global approach to education, too. It indoctrinates the children toward living sustainably, and what their decisions today mean for others on the planet, as well as for their own children one day. This includes running the brick and mortar school on solar power, embracing low-impact design and environmentally sustainable elements, and favoring a plant-based diet on campus.
One Meal a Day
In 2018, Cameron authored “One Meal a Day,” an approach to eating for the planet inspired by the daily meal program at Muse. The school grows much of its own fresh fruits and vegetables and doesn’t serve any meat, eggs, or dairy on campus. According to Cameron, making one meal a day entirely plant-based has a significant impact on the environment, about the difference of emissions saved in one cross-continental trip over the course of a year. Going plant-based is not bad for our health, either. Jim told the Toronto Star in 2018 that a vegan diet could help put Viagra out of business.
The health benefits to a vegan diet are far and wide, as Jim explored in The Game Changers. This can impact cholesterol levels, brain and sleep function, heart and digestive health, and so much more.
Eating a plant-forward meal may be especially beneficial for children, too, many of whom rely on their schools for their main meal of the day. A healthy plant-forward approach has been embraced by public school systems including major cities New York and Los Angeles.
But, of course, COVID has now changed everything. While some school systems are reopening across the U.S. with restrictions, others remain closed. This has altered food access and education formats for children dramatically.
Learning Goes Digital
Muse had already been exploring franchise models when COVID hit. The goal last year was to expand to new markets and bring that same global, future-forward eco approach it perfected in Calabasas to all corners of the world.
And as schools everywhere went online in March, Cameron realized there was an opportunity to go global in this way.
“I talked with other parents whose kids were just losing their minds in [other] digital classrooms,” she says. “We realized we were experiencing the exact opposite [at Muse]. The teachers were happy, the children were happy, and parents were over the moon.”
Enter Muse Virtual. The new model features its signature “5 Pillars”: Academics, Passion-Based Learning, Self-Efficacy, and Sustainability. The school has pivoted from a nonprofit to a for-profit model, which allows for investments so it can grow and scale the program.
“We’ve got something really special here,” Cameron says. While the plan is to reopen Muse’s brick and mortar school in the Valley once lockdown restrictions ease, Muse Virtual isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. “There’s just more need than ever before,” she says.
The Future of Education
Demand for digital learning is exploding and expected to hit record highs in the coming years. While in-person school systems scrambled to provide effective distance learning, most schools had no experience with the challenges of e-learning. Digital learning platforms that have perfected the model have become a haven for families struggling in modified classrooms.
But the pivot toward digital learning was already gaining steam in the last several decades. Credit in large part can go to the anti-vaccine movement. In some parts of the U.S., failure to follow required vaccine schedules without a valid medical excuse means children can’t be enrolled in public (or most private) schools. And now, with plans to rush a COVID vaccine to market within the next 12 months, the number of families opting out of required vaccine schedules is likely to increase.
But the Camerons don’t see Muse Virtual as an anti-vaxxer school. They see it as part of the evolving world. “Our kids can log on from New Zealand now, no problem,” Cameron says. With companies moving toward keeping staff home-based even after the pandemic, families may find themselves moving further away from public schools to access more nature and those wide-open spaces that feel safer than cities these days.
“We don’t know what the future holds for these kids,” Cameron says. “So we really just want to do the best we can to support them, wherever they are.”
For more information on Muse Virtual, visit the website.