More than 15 years ago, Orangewood Foundation identified that foster youth struggled to graduate high school. In California, 46% of students in the foster care system do not graduate. We later learned that foster youth were not the only children struggling to succeed. Teens living in poverty are 25% less likely to graduate from high school than their middle-income peers. Knowing these dismal statistics, Orangewood Foundation’s vision was to create an educational environment that would help these students graduate and ultimately break the cycle of generational poverty and abuse. The school would become known as Samueli Academy.

Foster youth face regular upheaval as they change placements, some as many as 22 times by their 18th birthday. Often this means a change of school. As one might expect, this instability negatively impacts a child’s educational progress. Samueli Academy alumnus Josh, Class of 2017 (pictured above), recalls, “5th grade is when I was taken away from my mom for the first time. The police put us in a car and took us to the Orangewood Home. I moved a lot and ended up going to seven different schools before I came to Samueli Academy.”
For Josh, focusing on school often took a back seat to worrying about where he might sleep the next night.

It is not uncommon for youth served by Orangewood Foundation to have attended five or more high schools and not graduate. Foster youth who did graduate and pursued higher education were often required to take remedial classes at a much higher rate than the general population. We set out to confront this inequity in education faced by foster youth by creating Samueli Academy. Initially, our school model was based on San Pasqual Academy in San Diego County. Set on a large rural campus, San Pasqual Academy blends a County Department of Education school with a private, non-profit agency offering a residential model serving exclusively foster youth. Their results in emotional growth, and college and career readiness, are exemplary.

As Orangewood Foundation explored this model, input was sought from former foster youth. Their voice informed us of the key elements missing in their educational experience. They wanted a consistent, supportive and challenging educational environment. They recognized the impact of family chaos on their education and asked for a school with support for crisis situations, assistance to remediate lost lessons, and an environment of expected success. They wanted a great school with a caring environment; one that every student would want to attend. They stated repeatedly that they were not interested in attending a school serving only foster youth.

With this foundation laid, it is now time to take the next step in the long-term vision of Samueli Academy: to build on-campus housing for foster youth called the Youth Connected Residence, a multi-purpose Student Innovation Center and a 7th and 8th Grade building.


Working collaboratively with former foster youth, Orangewood Foundation has designed the Youth Connected Residence within the scope of the comprehensive Youth Connected Program. The Program is based on best practices and has been created in conjunction with the California Department of Social Services.

The Youth Connected Residence will be the next level of care afforded to foster youth.

Teacher and Student

Students like Josh, who moved to three different homes during high school and took two buses to get to Samueli Academy, will have an enormous barrier removed. He says, “For housing to be on campus…that will be huge. I could have focused on school instead of worrying about my living situation.”

In fact, several foster students faced changes in their placement, and while they attempted taking a combination of buses, trains, and bicycles, the commute proved too difficult and they had little choice but to leave Samueli Academy.

The goal of the Youth Connected Program is to serve up to 100 Samueli Academy foster youth: 48 living in Residence and 52 “day students” living with relatives, foster families, non-related extended family or in group homes. The Program is designed to have most students living on campus five days per week to start (Sunday evening to Friday afternoon) and returning to foster families or relative caregivers on the weekend. This is the “5/2 model.” This living arrangement maximizes youth learning, provides educational and emotional support during the week, and ensures consistent family and adult connections during non-school hours.

“So many of our students take two steps forward during the day and one step backwards at night. With the residence in place, students will participate in programs that teach independent living skills, remediate past educational lapses and help them stay on task to excel in the classroom,” explains Anthony Saba.

Once that family connection is made on the weekends and is working well, the goal is to transition that student to the family on a full-time basis, while still attending Samueli Academy. This will provide the student with true permanence.
Orangewood will become a Foster Family Agency. As such, the organization will employ social workers and an Activities Director to facilitate comprehensive case management, coordinate youth support services and plan engaging programs. This team of caregivers including campus staff, extended family, and other foster families will become a safety net of support in the youth’s life and help develop sustainable relationships to carry into adulthood.

Dorm roomThe Residence

  • 3 stories
  • 2 suites per story
  • Each suite – 4 bedrooms, living room, kitchen and study area
  • 8 students per suite
  • Two staff members assigned to each suite
  • 1:4 staff to student ratio

Public Charter School for all students - no tuition fees. Take high school and college classes at the same time.