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Ralph Opacic’s Legacy of Intergenerational Excellence

In 1987, Dr. Ralph Opacic established the Orange County School of The Arts (OCSA, pronounced “oh-shuh”) in Santa Ana, California. Within this institution of learning and creativity, he set up a culture of distinction and innovation regarding training multiple generations of performing artists.  The school now averages well over 2,000 enrolled students with an average GPA ranging from 3.3 to 3.8. OCSA brings together the best of both the academic and professional worlds of the performing arts, teaching students how to excel in their fields of choice. From dance and graphic arts to culinary skills and creative writing, OCSA caters to anyone who has a penchant for hard work and a drive for mastery. Many of those who learned directly from Dr. Opacic during his time as an instructor have solidified their careers and are raising young artists of their own. A sampling of them have volunteered to be interviewed and contribute to the collection of reminiscences regarding their time under Dr. Ralph Opacic’s tutelage. They share their experiences with having their children’s futures guided by his legacy. 

The Sidonis: David, Tina, Cameron, and Daniel

David and Tina Sidoni have been an integral part of OCSA, and their children, Cameron and Daniel Sidoni have followed suit. David is a former student of OCSA who graduated in 1988 as part of the initial cohort of students. He left OCSA and was able to participate in productions like Disney’s Newsies (1992) and Spelling Television’s “Beverly Hills 90210” (1990 – 2000). Tina (D’Amato-Sidoni) is a former guest instructor at OCSA. The experiences David and Tina had at OCSA after directly working with Dr. Opacic influenced their decision to enroll their children in OCSA.

David notes that, even in his early days at OCSA, “there was a clear path” laid out for students by notable members like Dr. Opacic. Dr. Opacic was the choir director for David at the time. His time at OCSA showed him a way to become academically and professionally successful without attending two different schools. 

Early on, it wasn’t clear if Daniel, the Sidonis’ first child, was interested in being a performing artist. David and Tina knew that academically, “he was a smartie.” But they didn’t want to push him into the arts if that wasn’t something he wanted. Instead, the central focus for them as parents was to make sure that Daniel had options. So, even though they were not pushing the arts on Daniel, knowing Ralph Opacic’s work and OCSA being a school with a record of academic excellence still made it a favorable option. “ I want my kid to go to that school,” Tina stated. Since OCSA was also a strong choice for a standard curriculum, it made the decision to enroll Daniel at OCSA an easy one. David shared his excitement about how Daniel “started seeing options early and followed in my footsteps” by going into theatre. 

Cameron, the Sidonis’ daughter, had attended public school up until middle school. But she showed an earlier interest in the arts than her older brother. Trying out for OCSA made a lot of sense, as her father said she “surprised us with her audition song.” 

Now with established careers and two talented children under their belt, David and Tina enjoy being part of OCSA. This was thanks to its reputation for successful, thriving students and Ralph Opacic’s legacy in the institution

The Senesacs: Jamie, Chris, and Noah

Jamie and Chris Senesac enrolled their son, Noah Senesac, into OCSA after he successfully auditioned for placement there. Jamie Senesac is a former student of OCSA and attended during Dr. Opacic’s tenure. Jamie and Chris have performed on stage together multiple times. Chris even proposed marriage to Jamie in the middle of a stage play they were acting in during the late nineties. 

Jamie admired “the sense of community friendships” at OCSA and wanted their son to experience that as well. Exposure to diversity becomes a key component for students to learn high-level interpersonal skills like compassion, empathy, and emotional intelligence. OCSA’s openness to students from various backgrounds helps foster a growthful daily learning experience. OCSA has a history of enrolling students from families hailing from all over the globe. All this is elevated by Ralph Opacic’s warm and nurturing personality and supportive approach to each student’s journey.

Jamie shares how she experienced compassion and kindness from Dr. Opacic as a seventeen-year-old preparing to graduate from the school. To have adult-level flexibility and power in her career, Jamie needed to be seen as a legal adult a year early. So she opted to get emancipated. When the time came for her emancipation hearing, “Ralph went to court with me,” Jamie said. “He helped my emancipation process to help start my career off because I graduated young.” 

Her son Noah was accepted into OCSA’s integrated arts program. This conservatory provides an opportunity for young learners to explore a multitude of disciplines. The program’s setup allows students to research various fields that they may be interested in instead of limiting themselves to a single specialty. The instruction includes exposure to production and design, visual arts, musical theatre, creative writing, vocal performance, and graphic arts.

Noah’s parents believe that Noah’s “above-average intellect” also made OCSA a great fit for him. Their experience with OCSA had been that being intelligent wasn’t something that made kids stand out at OCSA. “It wasn’t the exception, it was the norm,” Chris said. Being in the integrated arts conservatory gave Noah the experience and education he needed to pursue his interest in game design. It helped propel him into pursuing his computer science degree at the University of Utah after graduating from OCSA. 

“There was no adjustment period for him,” Chris said. “It was easy. College was easier than OCSA in a lot of ways.” OCSA continues to provide students with opportunities to challenge themselves as they prepare to enter their field of choice. It allows them to compete for exemplary leadership roles in academic and professional spaces. With OCSA’s excellent academic curriculum and Dr. Opacic’s support, OCSA became the space to cultivate the careers of aspiring artists.

The Sternsheins: Jennifer and Levi

Jennifer M. Sternshein, Esq. graduated from OCSA and went on to become a teacher and then a lawyer. She took things a step further and eventually established her own law firm in 2020, Sternshein Legal Group. She maintains a connection with OCSA by serving The OCSA Foundation as the institution’s secretary. The OCSA Foundation works to provide financial support for its arts programs. It’s a 501(c)3 that leads the charge in strategic planning, marketing resources, capital fundraising, and community outreach programs. This effort by The OCSA Foundation serves to maintain continuous growth for the institution. Like Noah Senesac, Jennifer exemplifies how the excellence taught at OCSA spreads into other disciplines outside of the arts. Accredited to OCSA’s stellar reputation in academics and Ralph Opacic’s vision that maintained its excellence, Jennifer holds the institution in high regard.  Her positive experience with OCSA influenced her decision to have her son, Levi Sternshein, attend the same glorious institution as his mother. 

During her interview, Jennifer commented on being “there from the beginning” of OCSA’s existence and how it taught her to be resourceful. “We didn’t have the beautiful facilities that the school has now. We were working in adapted classrooms and gyms.” This common feature of newly established ventures had a strong impact on how she viewed the world, her education, and herself. “You learn a lot about yourself when you have to make something from nothing.” 

“Levi was always a creative child,” Jennifer said about her son, “who was always moving from one thing to the next.” But she wanted Levi to be in an environment where he could have creativity and willingness to try various things. Jennifer did not wish for her son to feel like he was boxed in at a school that only offered a handful of opportunities. “We knew that he needed to foster his creative development or he would be completely frustrated.” 

Levi entered OCSA in the seventh grade and has been taking full advantage of everything that OCSA has to offer ever since. According to Levi, “The fact that my parents continued to talk about OCSA so many years later kept me interested.” Levi realized that his parents hadn’t completely disconnected from their high school as so many other adults have. “I’m grateful for who OCSA has made me as an artist and a person.”

Levi’s goal before leaving high school was to secure a relationship with an agent and a manager to start his career on the right foot. This happened through the annual Actors Showcase event that OCSA holds every Spring. The Actors Showcase gathers talent agents and managers with connections to companies like NBC, Warner Bros, Disney, and Sony Pictures. OCSA offers students the chance to showcase their talent in a professionally recorded video which is shared online. This initial introduction to a young talent can quickly turn into a life-changing opportunity, launching their career to heights they never thought possible. “Because of the Actors Showcase program, I was able to do so and have been working tirelessly ever since. Knowing kids from other schools, I am so lucky to have the resources provided to us at OCSA.” 

An Endowment of Talent and Eminence

There are high schools all over the country that offer basic academic learning. Some institutions blend the arts training and academic rigor that arts-focused students need to further their studies and their careers. But Dr. Opacic’s Orange County School of the Arts has proven time and again that it is a cut above the rest. Part of that success comes from teaching basic skills and concepts. OCSA students benefit from the unique educational experience and spirit of community within the art world that Dr. Ralph Opacic set out to create in the late 1980s. Students gain exposure to various disciplines and are part of a learning environment that focuses on passion and performance instead of superficial characteristics or socioeconomic status.

Dr. Opacic could not have known when he started OCSA that it would turn into the beacon of creative education that it has become today. The institution has grown beyond his wildest dreams and continues to pour into the art community globally. OCSA’s legacy lies in the successful, creative individuals that it sends off into the world with a high-class education girded by real-world, concrete skills. These principles that were in place from the beginning at OCSA get passed along to the world’s latest generations of performers and creators. Along with it, is Ralph Opacic’s legacy of his vision for arts education that has changed various lives.

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