At-Risk Students Find Success at O’Connor Hospital Career Academy

Career Academy student Jessica Pineda worked at the Pediatric Center for Life at O’Connor Hospital. She also volunteered during the summer for community service hours at the Wound Care Center.

O’Connor Hospital’s Career Academy has opened its doors for the 2012-13 school year to at-risk students in the community. In partnership with the San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD), the on-the-job training and educational program offers students a chance for success. As part of the SJUSD Plus program, the Academy offers credit recovery options to students deficient in graduation credits. Together, the partners in education provide students with a positive learning experience tailored to the needs of each participant.

“This is the 20th year O’Connor has worked with the San Jose Unified School District to offer this important program and to support the youth of our community,” says President & CEO of O’Connor Hospital James Dover, FACHE. “Each year, we are hopeful their combined classroom instruction and experiences volunteering in the hospital will influence them to continue on with a career in healthcare.” Eight students graduated from the program in June 2012, with five students pursuing a career in the medical field.

Inaugurated in 1992, the program blends the best of both worlds. San Jose Unified School District provides the academic teacher, curricula, and materials; O’Connor Hospital provides a classroom, job assignments, along with supervision and mentoring on the job. Students spend two hours working in the hospital and three hours in classes daily, Monday through Friday.

Christine Austin, who has served as administrator and teacher in the Academy for the past five years, believes this program has the power to change a life. “Our students have witnessed and experienced many failures in their young lives,” she explains. “Their difficult home and neighborhood environments have contributed to putting them at-risk and created problems such as severe truancy.”

The term “at-risk” refers to students deficient in credits needed to graduate from a regular high school. Lack of attendance and motivation, along with dysfunctional family and living situations are cited as reasons why students tend to drop out of school. Although many express the desire to complete their education, students often suffer from addictions to alcohol and drugs, or are involved with area gangs. Girls are at-risk for becoming pregnant at a young age.

Along with students being eligible for scholarships through such organizations as the San Jose City College Educational Foundation Scholarship and Kiwanis Club Turn-around Scholarships, each student is matched with an O’Connor Hospital employee who takes on the role of supervisor. These dedicated individuals monitor workloads, foster self-esteem, assist with goal setting, and mentor in the art of making sound life choices. It isn’t unusual for a supervisor and a student to reconnect through the years.

“There have been several students who have contacted me,” offers Yvette Million, who has been a supervisor since the program began. “One invited me to her baby shower, and another just called to let me know how she was doing.” As manager of Service Excellence at O’Connor, Million sees the Career Academy as a win-win situation. While the students receive an education and on-the-job training, she receives much appreciated help in her office. “I train them to make copies, organize files, do data entry, and even help with Employee Association events,” she says. “I teach them how to be good students, be willing to learn new skills, and how to have a positive, can-do attitude.”

Students study the usual high school subjects such as history, math, science, English and computers. While many four-year universities do not accept an alternative student as a freshman, community colleges open their doors to those who complete their high school requirements. Over the years, Career Academy graduates have pursued community college, vocational schools, or have successfully entered the work force. Job assignments at O’Connor include working in the business office, human resources, medical records, pharmacy, and even patient care areas.

“This is a tribute to O’Connor Hospital, which is giving the students an excellent opportunity to experience the medical profession up close and on a very personal level,” offers Austin. “These students will further their education armed with a dream for the future.”

Jessica Pineda, who will complete her high school credits and graduate in June 2013, feels her time at the Career Academy has opened up a new path for her to follow.  “I plan to go to De Anza College after graduation,” she explains. “Everyone at O’Connor Hospital has been really nice and made me feel comfortable and respected. This has given me the courage and the opportunity to find out what I want to do next.” A graduation ceremony is held every June.

Since its founding, Career Academy has welcomed more than 400 students. At least 16 have become full-time employees at O’Connor Hospital. According to Dover, this unique, innovative program offers opportunities to young members of the community who would not otherwise receive them. “This partnership reflects one of the main tenants of the core Mission and Values of O’Connor Hospital and Daughters of Charity Health System – giving back to the community,” he offers.

All placements into Career Academy are made through the San Jose Unified Student Services Department. For more information contact: Learning Options at (408) 535-6539.

About O’Connor Hospital: Located in the heart of San Jose, O’Connor Hospital is an acute care, not-for-profit, Catholic community hospital that has served Santa Clara County longer than any other hospital in the region. Key services at O’Connor include cardiology, oncology, mother-baby care, orthopedic services, vascular care, wound care and emergency services. O’Connor Hospital sponsors the Pediatric Center for Life, Parish Nursing programs, and the Stanford-affiliated Family Medicine Residency Program. O’Connor is a Joint Commission designated Primary Stroke Center and the hospital is fully accredited by The Joint Commission, the California Department of Public Health and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.