Local commission honors OCDE alternative education students for their personal reflections of hope and resilience

A local commission that advocates on behalf of incarcerated youth is giving students enrolled in OCDE’s alternative education program the chance to express themselves through the written word.

In partnership with OCDE and the Orange County Probation Department, the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) of Orange County hosted its fourth annual essay contest to honor current and post-secondary students not only for their resilience but for their self expression.

Throughout the month of October, youth enrolled at Otto A. Fischer and Rio ​Contiguo schools — two detention and treatment facilities run by OCDE’s ACCESS program — were invited to write personal, reflective essays on the topics of “Hope and Me,” “If I Could Change the World” and “What Do Others Think About Me.”

Below is a brief excerpt from a tenth grade student’s submission titled “Hope for the Hopeless.”

“Hope in knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and all I can say is that my path is slowly getting a bit brighter as I push and pull through obstacles that life puts in my way. So, you see, how does an individual feel hope when the hopeless is surrounding him? Well, all they need is a sliver of light. A way out. Just that one person or situation to change a person altogether. We are all on a path and some of us take a detour, years, or decades, but it’s never too late to come back to the right path where we enjoy a life full of hope and happiness, something that my old self lacked.”

The essays were judged by a five-member panel and a ceremony was held virtually on Oct. 19. Awards were presented to first-, second- and third-place honorees as well as eight honorable mentions. Winners received a gift card, a writing journal and a certificate from the commission.

Veteran Otto A. Fischer teacher Richard Berman said organizers opted this year to accept submissions from not only current students but post-secondary students as well, resulting in a record 72 entries. And for the first time, both handwritten and typed essays were accepted to accommodate students who may not have access to technology.

“The essays, which were extremely profound and reflective, provide students an opportunity to put their ideas, thoughts, and feelings into words,” said Berman. “The project proves to always be self-empowering and gives students the chance to freely share their personal background, family situations and experience both in and out of custody.”

OCDE’s ACCESS program — the acronym stands for Alternative, Community and Correctional Education Schools and Services — serves more than 10,000 students a year, including young people who have encountered significant academic and social obstacles, as well as students who thrive in non-traditional settings. To learn more about ACCESS Juvenile Hall schools and programs, visit the department’s website.