The college-focused atmosphere in the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) is creating life-changing opportunities for students like Pasadena High School senior Michael Ocon, who has been admitted to Stanford University with a full scholarship.
The college-going focus is one result of the district’s Linked Learning approach that prepares students for college while engaging them in career-themed academies that connect them to work-based learning opportunities.
As a student enrolled in the Law and Public Service Pathway at Pasadena High School, Ocon landed first an internship and then a part-time job at a local law firm, where he gained valuable job experience and insight into the legal profession. He plans to attend law school after graduating from Stanford.
LPS Pathway teachers and counselors at Pasadena High School also empowered him to participate in the California Youth Courts program, which opened a Teen Court at PHS this year. Students collaborate with at-risk peers to find meaningful alternatives to the traditional juvenile justice system.
“Since the opening of teen court at PHS, I have advocated and promoted passionately the principles of the organization and beliefs of restorative justice,” Ocon described his involvement in the program. “I hope to continue to help students change their lives and reevaluate their future educational and career goals.”
LPS students participate as jurors, clerks, and bailiffs in Teen Court, which diverts youthful offenders who commit low-level offenses from the traditional justice system, replacing judges and attorneys with peers from other schools who question, judge, and sentence alleged offenders.
Ocon believes it was his experience in the Law and Public Service Pathway that earned him admission to Stanford University with a full scholarship. The four-year college preparatory program laid the rigorous academic foundation, provided meaningful work-based learning opportunities like the internship at the Figari Law Firm, and mentors like the attorneys who reviewed Ocon’s college applications and essays.
“The LPS instilled in me a passion and motivation for the law and has made me a better intern, employee and student,” says Ocon. “It has helped me grow as a person and a contributor to the community.”
Ocon also credits the focused support of a team of family members, teachers, counselors and district administrators who guided him during four years of high school for his success.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Michael,” said Dr. Marisa Sarian, PUSD’s Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education, who wrote letters of recommendation for Ocon. “He embodies the 21st century skills that our linked learning pathways strive to teach: he’s a critical thinker, an able communicator, a creative problem-solver, and a collaborative leader.”
In addition to working with his high school counselors on the college application process, Ocon took advantage of free after-school services offered by College Access Plan, a local nonprofit, for the final touches.
To expand opportunities for students, the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) has partnered with CAP through the afterschool program LEARNs to work with students at John Muir, Blair, Marshall, and Pasadena high schools, as well as those enrolled in LEARNs, and provide free college readiness workshops and one-on-one college counseling.
Mo Hyman, co-founder of College Access Plan, said for the past 10 years her organization has worked with Pasadena Unified students like Ocon supporting them through each important step of what can be, for some, a daunting process.
“One student needs so much curating to figure out what the right path is for them, so they have an authentic path to follow in college; that’s a lot of work,” Hyman said. “(But) the district has been very direct about their college and career focus, and that’s where they’re headed — it’s a very dynamic process, so there are a lot of different partners coming to the table.”
After graduation, Ocon says he wants to major in public policy and possibly minor in international relations at Stanford, so he can represent and fight for the rights of the disenfranchised and someday become a California Superior Court judge.
He says he appreciates the opportunities he’s been given and understands that the deep roots he has grown at Pasadena High School is what will allow him to spread their wings in college and beyond.
To learn more about PUSD’s Pathways, visit gopusd.com/pathways
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