OCEAN donor and UCI Trustee Sandi Jackson with Anthony Saba, executive director, Samueli Academy. The Samueli Academy is an inaugural member of the OCEAN network. Photo: UCI School of Education

Philanthropy Supports Transformative
Partnerships with Orange County Schools

Philanthropy Supports Transformative Partnerships with Orange County Schools

When a world-class School of Education, local K-12 teachers, principals, students and district administrators come together, great things happen.

That is what’s happening through the UCI School of Education’s Orange County Educational Advancement Network, or OCEAN. OCEAN is a network of research-practice partnerships between the School of Education and K-12 schools in Orange County. At each site, a School of Education faculty member and doctoral student work with school leadership to identify the greatest needs and goals of the school, and in turn conduct research that will positively impact the school.

Established in 2018 with six school sites in Santa Ana, Anaheim and San Juan Capistrano, OCEAN has grown to include 12 K-12 school sites, four school districts and multiple youth nonprofit partners.

OCEAN was the vision of the School of Education Dean Richard Arum, a nationally recognized expert in advancing educational opportunities for underserved youth. He credits the investment of seed funding from prominent local philanthropists as the catalyst for OCEAN’s success.

By aligning with needs identified by teachers, parents and administrators, these partnerships not only enrich educational research, but also promote educational equity. Doctoral students involved in OCEAN provide university-level research support to local schools and receive fellowships for their community service.

In direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, OCEAN faculty and graduate students mobilized to form workgroups that addressed threats to educational opportunities in low-income communities of color. These workgroups supported pandemic-related needs of not only students, but teachers and families as well.

In 2020-21, the initial investment from private donors of more than $1 million was leveraged to yield more than $8 million in grants from federal and private foundation sources like the Gates Foundation. This includes a grant from the Spencer Foundation, through which OCEAN is leading key stakeholders across Orange County to improve supports for foster and housing insecure youth. Partners include the Orange County Department of Education, the Orangewood Foundation, the Orange County Social Services Agency, and several schools and districts.

“Our project is a continuous improvement initiative,” explained June Ahn, director of OCEAN and associate professor at the School of Education. “Work does not just end after a couple of years; you want to keep funding the relationships and continuously identify and improve upon the issues. There needs to be a sustained commitment to keep things moving.”

“Our project is a continuous improvement initiative. Work does not just end after a couple of years; you want to keep funding the relationships and continuously identify and improve upon the issues.”

As projects reflect the unique needs of schools, research thus far is varied and quickly expanding. Key initiatives to date across the network include: introducing low-income middle school students to research and related critical thinking skills; increasing the number of students on track in elementary school math; integrating technology in classrooms for students with special learning needs; increasing the number of Latinx and Black high school students enrolling in college; increasing marginalized youth interest in STEM degrees and careers; promoting effective bilingual education; co-designing early STEM playgrounds (ages 1-9); expanding the number of students gaining data and computer science skills in high school; CTE programs, and more.

Community donors to OCEAN include the Podlich Family, Opus Foundation, Sandi Jackson, Seema and Pawan Seth, High School Inc. and Ted and Janice Smith.

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