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Susan Samueli and Sandi Jackson steam ahead with a new grade-A institution.

Sandi Jackson and Susan Samueli are driving forces behind The Academy.

Once upon a time, Anaheim Ducks co-owner Susan Samueli and fellow philanthropist Sandi Jackson had a dream: Build a place where teens from underserved Orange County communities, especially foster youth, could feel secure. A place where hope for the future could flourish. A place they could call home. It’s been 10 years in the making, and now their dream has come to fruition. Come Aug. 22, The Academy (—a STEAM-focused high school—will welcome 141 freshmen to its Santa Ana campus. (By the way, STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math.) Developed by Orangewood Children’s Foundation and a who’s who of public and private partners (including UCI’s School of Education), The Academy is the first charter school to be endorsed by the Orange County Board of Education. Now pay attention, you’re about to get a lesson from two masterminds.

So, whose brainchild is this?
SS: It was a combination of everybody’s input. We’ve always been concerned about foster children, especially the teenagers moving from group home to group home and attending as many as nine schools during their high school years. We realized that if we could create a residential school, they would have a better opportunity to go to college or trade school—or at the very least have a more consistent life.

Your decade-long dream has come true. How does it feel to see it materialize?
SJ: We get teary-eyed quite often. We’ve had activities for the new students and their families, and to feel their energy and enthusiasm that it’s finally happening—it’s a wonderful feeling.

Most programs are STEM-focused. What made you decide to add art?
SJ: We totally believe that music and the integrated arts are an important part to developing a whole person.

Now, we know construction is continuing. When will the campus be completed?
SS: With our successful capital campaign, we should begin construction in 2014 for the classrooms and community center. Right now, the students will be in temporary modules.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
SS: Just how needed the school is. Every day we work on this, the more I’m sure this is the best thing we could possibly do for Orange County and for our kids.

Every student gets a laptop. That’s rather unique, wouldn’t you say?
SJ: You can’t start a school like this and not have technology be a part of it.

Tell us about your “whole student” philosophy.
SJ: It’s an integrated approach. Students will learn math, science, cooking skills, possibility. And we have a donor who’s earmarked money for an agricultural program. As a second phase, we’re developing residential units, so we will have that component that’s completely unique.

Plans for other schools?
SS: We believe this will be a successful school, and we’re hopeful that it will be a model for other institutions throughout the nation.