Working with Orange High School College Awareness Day (OCAD), our Local Ideas Festival (LIF) focused on enhancing and improving college awareness amongst the students at Orange High School, has been a rich and rewarding experience for me.
It all started in the spring of 2017, when my corresponding student scholar (Taiwo Odunowo) received the sensational news that he was selected as a Bezos Student Scholar. After being in Aspen for a week with the 2017 Bezos Scholars, we, like everyone else, were tasked with creating a Local Ideas Festival that focused on a community need. Since we had both been long disappointed in the lack of college awareness in Orange—most students don’t even start thinking about college until their senior year--our community need was relatively simple to pinpoint, and OCAD was launched.
Fast forwarding to the present day, the three most rewarding aspects of this entire process have been working with a dedicated cohort of students to plan and coordinate OCAD, seeing the tangible benefits for more than 100 underclassmen who attend our events, and developing partnerships with like-minded individuals and organizations, which have created an unexpected and readily welcomed sense of sustainability to our work.
Educating students who are often unaware of all the aspects of the college application process has been an ambitious and daunting task. So much so, that from the onset, the OCAD team and I knew we would need to expand our circle of contacts. Early on in the planning process, we decided that all our presenters would need to be in the forefront of their field. The team spent countless hours researching and contacting all sorts of experts, who traditionally do not work with student populations similar to those of Orange High School. We asked these experts to volunteer their time and work with us to increase our students’ awareness about all aspects of the college application process. To our surprise, the responses were nearly all positive! In fact, we were able to host ten workshops last year on topics such as personal statements, standardized test preparation, financial aid, and finding the right school.
By focusing our efforts on multiple events throughout the year, we have been able to partner with a few organizations to create lasting change at Orange High School. Breakaway Prep, for example, helped us launch a summer SAT course, and has been instrumental in training teachers and creating afterschool SAT and ACT prep classes for our students. A college counselor at CollegeWise came for a spin-off workshop this past October on writing a memorable personal statement, and offered to continue helping attendees draft, revise, and fine-tune their writing—an offer that several students have already accepted. E Wolper Inc. expressed interest in continuous dialogue with school administration and has kept in touch with and been advising students on their application journey.
Organizations were only part of the community that we reached out to, though. We also contacted local business in search of assistance. Thankfully, several have been extremely generous, donating a bounteous supply of meals and desserts to feed the attendees and presenters at our various events. These local businesses have invested greatly in this community, and, just like us, desire for the people of Orange to grow and prosper.
By all accounts, OCAD has been a great success! Though still in our infancy, we’ve already increased the collective awareness among Orange High School students about the steps needed to competitively apply to the college(s) of their choice. We owe a large debt of gratitude to our community partners—who continue to work alongside us in strengthening and creating student-centered initiatives—and, because of them, OCAD is set to be a continuous and growing force in Orange. Much like the students we’re serving, OCAD’s future is bright, and its best is assuredly yet to come.