More than 1,200 Orange County students with severe behavioral problems have spent the school year pulling up their grades and attendance as part of an anti-gang effort by local law enforcement and schools.
The reward for their hard efforts comes Monday when the students will watch the Anaheim Angels take on the Seattle Mariners.
Students—including some with as many as 10 suspensions in one school year—were picked for the program as being at risk for gang exposure and activity, according to the Orange County District Attorney. The invitation to be a VIP guest at the ballpark was introduced at the beginning of the program as an incentive to students.
Their successful participation in the Orange County Gang Reduction and Intervention Partnership, known as OC GRIP, marks its fourth consecutive year.
Representatives from will be at the stadium to participate in recognizing the students for their improved behavior.
Members of the Lake Forest mega church, including its pastor, Rick Warren, are working with the law enforcement agencies to reward the students for avoiding gang involvement.
Warren is scheduled to attend the event alongside a line-up of the county's Who's Who in law enforcement, including four police chiefs, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. More than 75 law-enforcement personnel plan to attend, according to a statement from the DA's office.
"Saddleback Church is proud to be a partner with GRIP through the Orange County District Attorney's office and Orange County School Districts. Thank you to the Los Angeles Angels and the Orange County sheriffs for all the work they put in to make this event successful," Warren said. "We look forward to this continuing partnership and to seeing the lives of these children change. Congratulations to all the children who worked so hard and are receiving this reward!"
More than 1,200 students, ages 9 to 13, in grades 4 through 8, will attend the game. They come from 34 schools, including 24 elementary schools, and 10 middle schools in the cities of Anaheim, Buena Park, Garden Grove, Mission Viejo, Orange, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Ana, Stanton, and unincorporated North Orange County.
They will make up the largest group in the four years of the anti-gang program to be treated to the day at the ballpark as well as the largest VIP group ever hosted at Angel Stadium prior to the gates opening to the public before a game.
The students will arrive at 3 p.m. and have early access to Angel Stadium, where they will be seated behind the dugout and have an opportunity to be greeted by a former Angels and National Baseball Hall of Fame player Rod Carew prior to the team's stretch and warm-up.
During the game, the names of the 34 schools will be displayed on the Angel Vision JumboTron with a congratulatory message about the students' improvement in school.
The students will be accompanied by 200 parent and teacher chaperones, also guests of the Angels organization, which donated more than 1,400 tickets and free parking in support of the anti-gang efforts.
In the last four years, vandalism, suspension, expulsion, and crimes on campuses connected to OC GRIP have significantly decreased, according to the OCDA.