The O’Farrell Charter School senior class celebrating their college acceptances together. / Photo by Jayloo Molina
The O’Farrell Charter School senior class celebrating their college acceptances together. / Photo by Jayloo Molina

By Sarah Beauchemin

Preparing high schoolers for college is no small feat. Educators must foster students’ growth on numerous levels in the classroom, including academic, emotional, social and shaping life skills.

Such holistic growth is key to young adults feeling empowered to work hard and confidently pursue their dreams in college and beyond.

But this can be more challenging for traditionally underserved students, which is where The O’Farrell Charter School comes in.

OCS – a leading San Diego TK-12 charter school dedicated to offering educational equity and fostering high academic standards – recognizes the importance of creating a collegiate atmosphere for marginalized students.

The school works hard to ensure its students have the competitive edge to enter the college of their choice – regardless of their socioeconomic background.

Two recent OCS events in particular highlight the school’s impressive dedication to its mission: their National AVID Demonstration High School validation and their annual College Signing Day celebration.

The AVID Validation And Why It Matters

AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a San Diego-based nonprofit founded in 1980 that helps schools close the “achievement gap” by preparing all students for college and for lifelong success.

Schools like OCS that partner with AVID offer an AVID Elective course to their students. During that period, students in the elective get additional academic, social and emotional support that helps them succeed in their school’s most demanding courses.

“Students in the AVID Elective learn how to be organized, critical thinkers and readers and how to work collaboratively,” said Diane Kridner, AVID coordinator at OCS. “They also work with college-aged tutors twice per week, engage guest speakers, take field trips to local universities, and much more.”

Seniors celebrating their college acceptances. / Photo by Jayloo Molina

But what sets OCS apart from other schools that offer the AVID Elective is that OCS has earned the honorable “AVID National Demonstration School” validation. This means that at OCS, AVID teaching strategies are incorporated school-wide, not only in the AVID Elective classes.

“Our teachers are all trained in using AVID, and its strategies are used in all of our content area classes,” said Jill Andersen, District AVID Coordinator and OCS employee since 2002. “With a focus on writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization and reading, OCS teachers use inquiry-based questioning and strategies that push students to achieve in a rigorous educational environment.”

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Visit the O’Farrell Charter School website for more information about its college prep program, or call 619-263-3009 to request a campus tour.

On February 23, 2018, AVID revalidated OCS middle school as an AVID National Demonstration School (the first validation was in 2012, then again in 2014) and validated the OCS high school for the first time.

“The validation is so important because it verifies that we have built a strong educational program that focuses on preparing all of our students for college,” said Andersen.

Beyond academics, AVID also provides important family-like “nurturing” benefits to underserved students who need them.

“AVID provides a strong ‘family feel’ for students who need [extra] emotional and social support,” said Kridner. “For students whose parents work multiple full-time jobs, live in a different city or country, or whose first language is not English, AVID ensures that these students do not fall through the cracks.”

AVID Success Leads To College Signing Day

One of the biggest measures of AVID’s success at OCS is its third annual College Signing Day event. Each OCS senior is 100 percent committed to his or her post-high school career, whether that is enlisting in the military, enrolling in trade school or attending a college or university.

What’s more, every OCS senior who applies to a two or four-year college or university is accepted, which shows how AVID has prepared students exceptionally well for their future academic endeavors.

Senior Jewel Smith holding her UCLA bound sign at college signing day. / Photo by Jayloo Molina

Signing Day began with OCS high school’s very first graduating class in 2016, and in conjunction with Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative. It is an opportunity for OCS seniors to publicly pledge in front of their peers and family members their commitment to the college or university they will attend this fall.

And this year, declaring their plans on Signing Day takes an even more exciting turn.

All OCS seniors’ “little buddies” – OCS elementary students with whom OCS high school students have paired up over the course of the school year to become their “big buddies,” or mentors – are invited to witness their big buddies take their pledge on Signing Day.

As a TK-12 school where students of all age groups interact to some degree, it is especially important for the big buddies to serve as positive role models to their little buddies.

“We are a college preparatory school, so it is very powerful for little buddies to see their big buddies making such an important and exciting academic decision,” said Sarah Norton, OCS high school team leader and Career Development instructor. “It gives them a person to look up to and say, ‘I know that person, and if they can do it, so can I.’”

Furthermore, little buddies will get a sense of the hard work and planning their big buddies accomplished leading up to Signing Day – a good part of which was cultivated in Career Development class.

The course is designed to help students with the crucial, and often challenging, transition from high school to college. The curriculum covers topics from college applications and financial aid, to financial literacy, to networking skills and resume writing.

“Honestly, we have been prepping for College Signing Day since these [seniors] were freshmen,” said Norton. “By this time, most seniors feel confident declaring their plans.”

Senior Emmanuel Reza holding his UCSD sign at college signing day. / Photo by Jayloo Molina

As exhilarating as Signing Day is for the seniors participating in it, Norton believes that Signing Day really serves the future seniors watching it.

For example, one OCS student expressed to Norton that by witnessing Signing Day last year, he felt a strong and renewed commitment to his own academics and personal achievement. “In this way, Signing Day becomes a sort of drive for all students,” said Norton.

Additionally, Signing Day also validates the hard work and dedication graduating seniors have given to their studies – serving as a celebration of academic success.

“Signing Day sets the tone at OCS that this is what we celebrate, and this is what we value,” said Norton. “It gives students a ‘why’ for all of the hard work they endure at OCS and an expectation that they will leave our school with a clear path and plan.”

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