School worker teaches teens self-worth PEOPLE: Barbara Leon of Fullerton works to keep students in school by telling them to believe in themselve

MARC S. POSNER
North County News.

Orange County Register
19 Aug 1993: b02.

Barbara Leon is the kind of person who immediately makes you feel at ease.

Perhaps that’s why she has countless friends – some of whom don’t know her name, or even of her.

Take, for example, neurologically disabled students who attend specialized classes because Leon fought for them in the early 1970s.

Then there are the high school dropouts she charms into returning to independent-study programs, where many earn their diplomas and go on to college.

Tonight, for her volunteer efforts, Leon will receive The Register Angel Award before the game between the California Angels and Milwaukee Brewers. The award is a monthly joint effort of The Orange County Register and the Angels to honor people who make an extraordinary effort to help others.

Leon will receive four tickets to tonight’s game, a commemorative plaque and round-trip tickets for two on Southwest Airlines to any destination Southwest serves.

“I just volunteer where people ask me to,” Leon said. “There’s a lot to do out there.”

As part of the recovery-retention team in the Fullerton Joint Union High School District, Leon brings dropouts back to school to earn their diplomas.

“I’ll say, `I’ve got to get you educated because you’ll be paying my Social Security’ – and they laugh,” she said.

Leon is a senior records clerk in the recovery-retention program, pulling student-history files, filling in forms and answering phones. During her spare time, she’s making friends with the students, giving them books to read and teaching self-worth.

“You sell the kids an idea … that they have control over their lives, (but) the issues they are going to face take longer to solve than an hour TV show,” Leon said. “That’s what I do.”

There are a few other things Leon does. She co-wrote 2nd District Supervisor Harriett Wieder’s second Gang Alliance mission statement, helped implement a $1.35 million gang-suppression grant, worked on the Latino Caucus and with the Hispanic Education Media Group and is a member of Los Amigos.

And that’s not all.

When she befriended a manager in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and learned that students on reservations lacked textbooks, she went to work, calling friends in various school districts.

“I had 7 tons of books in our driveway,” Leon said, noting that United Parcel Service trucks were coming to the house for days.

Leon is a realist. She knows that not every student can be saved, even the ones who appear to be doing well.

“We lose them, but we’ve got them in college too,” Leon said, acknowledging that many of the students who graduated from high school and went on to college did so because she made them appointments with her friends at colleges.

(SIDEBAR) ABOUT THE AWARD

The Register Angel Award is a joint effort by The Orange County Register and the California Angels to honor Orange County people who care enough to make an extraordinary effort to help others.

The award is presented each month during baseball season before an Angels game at Anaheim Stadium. Recipients receive four tickets to the game, a commemorative plaque and, courtesy of Southwest Airlines, a free round trip for two to any destination served by Southwest.

Illustration

COLOR PHOTO:BLACK & WHITE PHOTO; Caption: B&W CAPTION: EARNING HER WINGS: Barbara Leon, who is being honored as a Register Angel, brings dropouts back to school as a member of the Fullerton Joint Union High School District’s recovery-retention team. // COLOR PHOTO of Leon (from PAGE B01); Credit: CLAY MILLER

Copyright Orange County Register Aug 19, 1993