The Orangewood Children’s Foundation is making plans to open a new charter high school for foster and at-risk students, as well as youths who will be drawn to smaller, creative classes.
By RON GONZALES / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
SANTA ANA – A year from now, supporters hope, a new high school will open its doors in west Santa Ana, serving foster youth and neighborhood teens seeking a different educational environment.
The Academy Charter High School is a project sponsored by the Orangewood Children’s Foundation, the nonprofit that raised money to develop the county-run Orangewood Children’s Home.
Its first class will be made up of about 80 to 100 freshmen, and in the next four years, it will grow to serve about 400 teens.
“We know the value of education,” said Cal Winslow, the foundation’s CEO. “The purpose is to build a school that assists foster youth, and other youth who choose to come. We will have staff that is sensitive to the needs of young people and equipped to assist them.”
The foundation, he said, identified the need for the school a decade ago. Nearly half of foster teens fail to graduate from high school, and fewer than 10 percent of foster youth who graduate from high school go on to college.
“Is it possible for them to be successful, productive adults,” Winslow said. “The amount that drops out of school is unacceptable. The amount of former foster children living on the street is abysmal because of the lack of support for them. We’ve taken a good look at the largest factors. Education is one of those. If they don’t get through high school, they have a difficult time succeeding. So we decided 10 years ago that we needed to do something.”
Despite the challenges of a faltering economy the past several years, Orangewood last fall identified a site at 1901 N. Fairview St., home of a hospital and medical building. Orangewood acquired the land in October for $7.4 million and had the land cleared. The foundation is estimating total costs of $25 million to $30 million to complete the first phase of construction, with a total cost of $40 million when the site is fully developed.
Orangewood has raised about $11 million so far, reaching out to its supporters and the community.
On the 7.2-acre site the foundation plans to construct eight buildings totaling about 160,000 square feet. The foundation will likely open the school with temporary, non-residential buildings in 2013 until construction of the first phase is completed for fall 2014.
Three buildings will house 80 youths in family-style accommodations and with family-style interactions – in groups of 10 with house parents.
“Going through the interaction that a family has is something they often miss out on,” Winslow said.
The first phase will also include a three-story classroom building and a two-story administration/library building, according to a city report.
The school will have teachers, medical staff, and social workers who will work out of a commons building. The project will eventually include buildings housing physical education and performing arts.
“We will have some foster children there, but we also know it is incredibly important for it to be for all youth – for youth from the neighborhood who want a smaller school, smaller classes, creative classes,” Winslow said. “They can decide to come as well.”
He said Orangewood looked at several models for ideas, but found none quite like The Academy. The Orange County Department of Education in February approved Orangewood’s petition for the school, the first charter ever approved by the department. Following approval by the city Planning Commission in mid-August, the project is expected to go before the City Council on Tuesday.
Orangewood has hired a principal to open the school. Anthony Saba came from Lebec, Calif., where he was principal of a school similar in size to The Academy.
Saba and Winslow foresee a school with sports and academic teams, a mascot, school colors, and more. Saba said every student will be required to participate in an internship. The academy’s goal is to see that every student is admitted to a four-year college, and it will accomplish that through low student-teacher ratios, advisory periods each day when a teacher will focus on each student’s progress and planning, and an emphasis on STEM courses – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“The instruction will be phenomenal,” Saba said. “Not only will we teach students what they need to know, but why they need to know it.”
Winslow sees plenty of opportunity for community involvement.
“We will need all kinds of help,” he said. “Financial help, advice, and support. We believe it will be a valuable project, for kids and for Santa Ana. It will be an exceptional school. It’s going to be an exciting place.”
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