Jason Harper is asking Oak Ridge High School students to go the extra mile for inner city kids. The El Dorado Hills’ family man and Oak Ridge High School alumni proved his mettle in 2008 by completing a 100 mile run in temperatures that soared above 100 degrees, raising awareness and money for the students at South Sacramento’s blighted Oak Ridge elementary school. Harper’s “Be Change” organization works on behalf of the school.
He approached the school last year. He spoke to the Leadership class several times, including a moving video about conditions at the elementary school, “It inspired us to do more,” said Leadership student Alex Bennett, 18.
The result is “Be Change: Oak Ridge High School to Oak Ridge Elementary School,” a full week of fundraising for the troubled elementary school, starting with “T-Shirt Tuesday,” when $10 buys a very cool “Be Change” T-Shirt, followed by $1 Wednesday, “Bring Change Be Change” Thursday and “Fuzzy Friday,” when students are asked to bring warm items to help Oak Ridge Elementary students get through the winter.
On Saturday, Dec. 4, student leaders will host the Oak Ridge Charity Gala. The dance is open to all Oak Ridge High School students. Admission is either $10 or 10 items of canned food.
The dance is semi-formal. No dates are required. “It’s a chance to dress-up and show-up,” said Bennett. “We’re hoping people come out with their friends.”
“Many of them can’t afford basic school supplies that we take for granted,” said Leadership student Meredith Maher, 18. “Even simple items like backpacks or pencils are needed.”
Funds will be used for school supplies and hand sanitizer, two things Harper said are ongoing needs at the school.
“We are passionate about this,” said Maher. “We’ve talked to so many groups, to staff, in class, held assemblies. We’ve gone to the middle schools … trying to get the word out.
“Some of the kids on the video talked about not wanting to go home after school, how being in the streets of Oak Park, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the state, is safer than their own home,” she continued. “It’s amazing that a school 16 miles away from us is so different.”
Test scores at Oak Ridge Elementary are among the lowest in the state. Much of that is due to poverty in the area. The Leadership students hope to make the charity event an annual post-Thanksgiving tradition.
Important progress has been made at Oak Ridge Elementary since Harper started “Be Change.” Harper’s efforts have already put a quarter million dollars of improvements into the school infrastructure and made sure each student is eligible for health care.
The Be Change Website, www.extramilerun.com, also notes other progress.
• Vandalism and crime on the campus has plummeted.
• Access to health care for children jumped from 12 percent to 82 percent in a single year.
• On campus parent meetings that were once empty are now full.
• Oak Ridge was awarded the California Golden Bell Award.
• Harper’s “Be Change” Running Club has increased student fitness and improved nutrition.
• Teacher turnover fell from 50 percent annually to only one teacher leaving in two years.
• Tutors, mentoring and weekend student home visits led to major improvements in 2010 mid-year testing benchmarks.
• Every child was given access to dental and vision care.
• Parents are being taught job skills, resume building and interview skills.
Harper does community outreach for Capital Christian Center, but is clear that he’s not prosthelytizing or promoting the church in any way at either Oak Ridge school.
For more information about this week’s activities at Oak Ridge High School, go to www.facebook.com/oakridge2oakridge.