“The research we will conduct as a result of this grant is the exact type of work we envisioned when establishing OCEAN,” Arum said. “With a strong network of school sites in place, and funding to study this important, under-researched area, we will improve the educational and living experiences of thousands of housing-insecure and foster youth in our community and identify research-based solutions for the larger field of education nationally.”
“We are honored by the support of the Spencer Foundation and anticipate this grant will help OCEAN to understand the diverse experiences of students who face housing insecurity in Orange County,” Ahn said. “By utilizing partnership and continuous improvement methods, our goal is to understand how to adapt local education systems to better serve these diverse experiences.”
The research team will begin collaborating with social services coordinators at Samueli Academy and the Orangewood Foundation to identify a group of best practices that can be shared across schools. In particular, the team will study the diverse experiences of students who are currently experiencing housing insecurity in Orange County, and analyze ways to build from the rich strengths of local educators, neighborhoods, youth, and their families to address systemic obstacles.
“We recognize that this is a sensitive area of research, and that time and resources may be challenges for school personnel,” Ahn said. “It is invaluable to have a direct partner such as Samueli Academy that is dedicated to serving the needs of housing-insecure youth, and we are grateful for both their collaboration and the support of the Orangewood Children’s Foundation, Orange County’s leading provider of foster youth services.”
“I’m incredibly appreciative of the Spencer Foundation for this opportunity and am beyond excited at the thought of using research and the accumulation of best practices to better serve the needs of foster youth everywhere,” Saba said.
Today, Samueli Academy serves more than 650 foster and community youth and boasts a 99 percent high school graduation rate, 92 percent college attendance rate, and is set to open foster youth dorms on-campus in January 2021.
There are currently 12 research practice partnerships in the OCEAN network, representing six school districts in Orange County and Southern California. OCEAN donors and grants are supporting 15 graduate student researchers as Community Research Fellows in this upcoming 2020-21 academic year.
Chris Wegemer, a fifth-year doctoral candidate and OCEAN community research fellow, has worked with Samueli Academy for the past four years and helped organize the new project funded by the Spencer Foundation.
“Housing insecurity was already a problem in local communities before the pandemic, and now the issue is even more pressing,” Wegemer said. “Because of our positionality in one of the largest and most diverse counties in the nation, this initiative has the potential to influence broad policy decisions. It’s an exciting opportunity to do academic work that is centered around achieving equitable outcomes and social impact.”
Ahn, who serves as faculty director of OCEAN, studies learning technologies, research-practice partnerships, human-computer interaction, educational technology, and data use and analytics. His core research interest is understanding how technology, information, and co-designing solutions with the community can enhance the way we learn and deliver education.