OC Conservation Corps and Charter School opens with a ribbon cutting ceremony

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Michael Worley, part of the OC Conservation Corps. Board of Directors, welcomes Sen. Lou Correa while introducing the grand opening of the OCCC. DEANNA TROMBLEY / Daily Titan
Michael Worley, part of the OC Conservation Corps. Board of Directors, welcomes Sen. Lou Correa while introducing the grand opening of the OCCC.

The City of Fullerton held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of Orange County Conservation Corps Charter School on Friday.

The school provides students aged 18-25 with a second chance at earning a high school diploma.

OCCC Charter School helps young at-risk adults become active members of the community by providing educational programs and employment training to guide them toward the right track and meet their potential.

Corps members are mostly minorities who have had issues ranging from substance abuse problems, gang allegiances or unplanned pregnancies living in the poorest conditions in Orange County.

Chief Executive Officer Katharyn Muniz Bandoni, Senator Lou Correa, Board of Directors, Fullerton Chamber of Commerce and Corps members were just some of the people who attended the ceremony.

There are an estimated 4,000 dropouts from the county’s public schools system, according to the 2012 Annual Report on the Conditions of Children in Orange County. The OCCC is one of 13 conservation corps that are dedicated to serving disenfranchised youths in the county.

Over the last two years, the school has given over 400 students opportunities to become productive adults.

Anthony Blancas, guest speaker at the event, is one student who got a second chance and graduated from the program last June.

“I actually learned a lot and I got a lot of qualities coming to school and work at the same time,” Blancas said.

OCCC offers everything from earning a high school diploma and paid work experiences to transportation services and bus passes.

Stephanie Yepez, an Office Corps member, found out about the charter school through a family member.

Because she was previously in the students’ shoes, Yepez felt passionate to help and started working at the school.

“If I knew about this organization back when I was younger, that would have helped me so much,” Yepez said. “Now I tell everybody about it when I’m out.”

The U.S. Department of Education announced that the high school dropout rate across the nation has risen to 27 percent.

In addition, the unemployment rate in California stands at 20 percent, which is twice the state average.

“Will we turn things around overnight? No,” said Bandoni, “But I’m proud to say that we believe our school is an innovative path to helping be part of the solution to turn the tide around at least here in Orange County, California.”

OCCC Charter School also celebrated the new technology they received. The school welcomed new touch screen computers and Pinsoft software.

The charter school has teamed up with Flipswitch, an education management system, to become the only charter online alternative school which allows corps members over 240 online classes. Educators might not be there for each different course and this allows students to take other classes they need to graduate. All of the courses are UC approved and available for all corps members.

Currently, 150 students are enrolled on a rolling basis. Each student enrolls and depending on their life situations, may drop after the third week and “roll out.”

The charter school is crucial on making sure students do not just receive packet work.

Kids will drop out if it is too hard, said Fred Zepeda, school director of education. “We do direct instruction, we won’t do packet work.”

It is important to the educators that each student is receiving and learning the material hands-on and not just given papers to take home and return.

The school provides skill building classes and fun exercises to help them become stronger learners.

To ensure corps members become successful, the school provides flexible schedules Monday through Thursday and design class schedules to be flexible and fit students’ needs.

A math and English assessment test helps place corps members in the appropriate classes and prepare them to pass the California High School Exit Exam that they may have failed before.

As of June 2013, 50 students have graduated from the OCCC Charter School.

OCCC Charter School has numerous supporters from cities throughout Orange County and sponsors from the Disneyland Resort and Young Invincible. Certificates were presented to the school for providing Orange County with a charter school and working on creating this program.

“We are here to make a difference,” Zepeda said. “We have these really gifted kids who have just made bad choices.”

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