Santa Ana Charter Wins $2.3 Million in Grants

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SANTA ANA – El Sol Science and Arts Academy has received two grants worth $2.3 million that will allow the charter school to enhance health and dental care programs offered to students, parents and the surrounding community, school officials announced Tuesday.

The first grant, worth $1.5 million, comes from the U.S. Health Resources and Service Administration. The grant will allow the school to expand the SOS-El Sol Wellness Center, a free on-site clinic operated by the UC Irvine Program in Nursing Science and the nonprofit Share Our Selves.

The second grant, totaling about $820,000, is from the Bureau of Health Professions. The funds will allow the school and community partner Healthy Smiles, a nonprofit that provides dental services to the needy, to place staff and two dental chairs inside the school’s clinic to further increase dental care to students.

“The grants will allow us to better serve our community,” said Monique Daviss, the school’s executive director. “Health affects student achievement. A healthy family is better able to support the academic success of students.”

In addition, Daviss announced Tuesday that El Sol has entered into a new 40-year lease with the Santa Ana Unified School District to remain at its current location on 1010 Broadway. The long-term lease will permit El Sol to replace portable modules with new permanent buildings, Daviss said. In the next few weeks, El Sol will launch a fundraising campaign to raise money for the campus upgrades.

“This new lease will allow us to develop a new campus to meet the needs of our students,” she said.

El Sol, a dual-immersion, pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade campus, serves mostly low-income and English learner students from Santa Ana. The campus is spread over a two-block area in downtown, made up primarily of portable classrooms.

El Sol opened in 2001, but soon ran into financial turmoil. The school borrowed $2.4 million from Santa Ana Unified to buy its property. But school officials couldn’t find a way to pay back the loan. The school eventually turned over the property it sits on to Santa Ana Unified, becoming more dependent on the district than the usual charter school. Around the same time, about half the school’s parents and teachers and its principal left and started their own school across the street, called Orange County Educational Arts Academy.

But over the last few years, the El Sol’s enrollment has steadily grown, test scores have risen dramatically and the school’s finances have stabilized. The school’s 2011 Academic Performance Index of 880 is 200 points higher than in 2005. During that same time, enrollment has nearly tripled to about 775 students for the current year. There is now a waiting list of about 400 students.

SOS-El Sol Wellness Center opened at the campus last fall. The clinic, a modular building with six patient rooms, serves students, parents and the surrounding community. The clinic currently provides health screenings and other care free of charge for about 20 hours a week. The new funding will allow the clinic to expand service to 40 hours a week, managed by UC Irvine’s nursing program.

Combined with the added dental services, the revamped center will further contribute to El Sol growing reputation, said Santa Ana Unified Superintendent Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana.

“Thanks to the collaboration from all our community partners, El Sol will serve as model for charter schools nationally,” she said.