Looking back: 10 memorable OCDE Newsroom stories from 2021

Just like that, another calendar year is coming to an end. And while 2021 brought on its own set of unique challenges, Orange County educators rose to the occasion by reigniting a passion for learning, raising levels of achievement and restoring a sense of normalcy in the lives of students, staff and families.

So like in years’ past, it’s time to look back in time on the most memorable OCDE Newsroom stories for 2021. These posts highlight academic achievement, the spirit of giving and kindness, and what it looked like to return to school in the midst of a global pandemic.

Here are 10 of our favorites, in no particular order, selected by OCDE Newsroom staff.

Highlights from the first few weeks of the 2021-22 school year

With staggered start dates from August to the beginning of September, districts throughout Orange County welcomed students back into classrooms for in-person learning. And although school still looks a bit different, the hustle and bustle, excitement — and jitters — were ever present as educators, students and families kicked off the first day of the school year. OCDE Newsroom staff collected a roundup of Instagram and Twitter posts from different campuses across the county.

Welcome to OC! Lowell Joint becomes the first school district in California to switch counties

The Lowell Joint School District, which has long operated under the umbrella of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, transferred over to OCDE’s jurisdiction starting July 1, nearly 16 months after the shift was approved by local voters. Promoting rigorous academics along with STEM and arts programs, Lowell Joint serves more than 3,000 K-8 students in La Habra, which is in Orange County, and La Habra Heights and Whittier, which are both in Los Angeles County.

Westminster High School dedicates new learning pavilion in honor of Sylvia Mendez

Sylvia Mendez knows a thing or two about breaking barriers. Not far from where she and her brothers were denied enrollment at a school because of their Mexican heritage, setting in motion a landmark desegregation case with national reverberations, the civil rights icon visited Westminster High School to help dedicate a brand new learning pavilion named in her honor. Huntington Beach Union High School District officials formally launched the Sylvia Mendez Learning Pavilion during an afternoon celebration that featured student Folklorico dancers, steel drum music, a percussive performance by the school’s Vietnamese American Culture Club, empanadas, the debut of a massive outside mural, and a tour of the new facility, which more than earned the approval of its namesake.

VIDEO: OCDE announces the 2022 Orange County Teachers of the Year

Six educators who enlightened, encouraged and uplifted students during one of the most challenging years in a century learned that they’re the 2022 Orange County Teachers of the Year. For the second straight spring, the announcements were made virtually through a series of Zoom calls rather than surprise visits to local campuses. But the winners were no less elated to learn they had earned the county’s highest honor for those who have found their calling in the teaching profession.

7 Orange County elementary schools earn National Blue Ribbon honors

Seven Orange County schools were awarded the nation’s highest level of distinction as 2021 National Blue Ribbon Schools. The OC campuses were among 325 schools from across the United States that were granted the prestigious designation based on overall academic performance or their progress in closing achievement gaps. Only 28 schools earned the honor in California, meaning Orange County accounts for 25 percent of the state’s Blue Ribbons.

Caps off to the Class of 2021: a roundup of OC graduation pics from social media

After nearly sixteen months of living and learning through a global pandemic, high school seniors across Orange County finally got the chance to celebrate with in-person graduation ceremonies — an event that seemed unimaginable in 2020. During a year unlike most, students, their families and school district leaders across the county worked together to create commencement ceremonies that were safe, hopeful and acknowledged the accomplishments of the class of 2021.

Defying the odds: OCDE’s alternative education program celebrates nearly 700 graduates

Language divides, homelessness, pregnancy, single parenting, and social and academic challenges are just some of the hurdles the 2021 graduating class of OCDE’s alternative education, or ACCESS, division has faced. But navigating these obstacles — plus the stresses related to learning during a global pandemic — could not deter the department’s nearly 700 graduates from commencing toward brighter futures. And for the first time since 2019, families and friends spread out across the grass during four separate ceremonies at Mariners Church in Irvine to watch graduates achieve a monumental milestone.

How 11 OC middle and high schools earned their ‘distinguished’ designation

The California Department of Education announced the selection of 11 Orange County campuses as California Distinguished Schools. The recognition has long been considered the top honor for public schools in the state, and 2021 is no exception. Amid the backdrop of uncertainty and hardship facing all California schools, this designation is particularly meaningful. Honorees were chosen based on criteria including test scores, suspension rates and climate. This year’s winners were recognized for their work in closing the achievement gap and top-notch student performance.

Students from OCDE’s Otto Fischer School are building kindness one desk at a time

Students from Otto A. Fischer School built desks for families across the county, giving local students a workspace to call their own and helping them get through virtual learning. Fischer is one of two schools operated by OCDE’s ACCESS division inside detention facilities run by the Orange County Probation Department. The project — internally known as “Operation Study Hall” — was the brainchild of Lisa Lanier, manager of Title I programs for OCDE’s division of alternative education.

VIDEO: ‘One Day’ short film looks at life inside OCDE’s Adult Transition program

A short film produced by OCDE’s Communications and Media Services unit followed one class of Adult Transition students at Harbor Learning Center (HLC) through a day in their life. Filmed prior to COVID-19 pandemic, “One Day: Inside an Adult Transition Program” captures the unique stories and personalities of students and educators and provides an inside look at the program’s skill-based academics and community-based work experience and instruction.