Danny Busch may have a slight form of autism, but that has done little to hinder his goal of becoming a firefighter. Nor has it prevented him from flawlessly putting on headgear and performing some pretty difficult moves as part of the wrestling team at Corona del Mar High School.
Today, Busch, a senior, will receive a special award for having completed a pair of classes through the Regional Occupational Program, or ROP. He is among 130 students who will be honored at 4 p.m. at the Costa Mesa Community Neighborhood Center.
Not only did he learn everything from poison control to strapping injured people down on a gurney in his first responders' class, he also soaked in the do's and don'ts in his fire technology class.
And he accomplished all this while attending high school, inching pragmatically closer to his goal of climbing a ladder and saving lives from a burning high rise.
"I'm stoked," said Busch, 18, of the pending days to graduation and of the pursuit of his dream. "The classes were so cool. They taught me all sorts of great things. We went over scenarios on what to do. We went over combustible materials. We did all that good stuff."
Regional ROP classes were created in the 1970s to teach students various occupations. In Busch's case, his classes in particular taught him not only about the here and now but what he needed to do to realize his goal.
And he's not the lone recipient of the program.
More than 13,000 students take a total 75 classes available to them in five school districts across Orange County, including Newport Beach, Irvine and Tustin.
The classes run the gamut from dance, floral design and nursing to auto technology, crime scene investigations and principles of engineering.
You name it, and the program is probably teaching it, either after school or during school, said Stacy Robison, a career specialist who works closely with Linda Kannow, the program's director of student services.
On Thursday, the pair was proving the real-life benefits of such classes, which bubbled forth in Busch, who entered the program with some trouble concentrating.
"Until you see it and hear their stories," Robison said, "you don't really have a clue what's going on. It's amazing what some of these children have accomplished. They grow up in a span of a few classes, and you see it right before your eyes."
Although Busch's form of autism is slight, there are times, he said, where he might have a hard time keeping his temper under control or his focus on the straight and narrow.
"I'm autistic," said Busch. "And I'm proud of it."
So is Tara Kelly, at least with the manner in which Busch has learned to adjust to certain situations and handle what might be a frustrating set of circumstances.
"I remember meeting him for the first time his freshman year," said Kelly, a career specialist with the program at Corona del Mar High School. "He came in yelling at me because I didn't have his work permit ready for him. He wanted to work at Vons Pavilions, and I hadn't gotten around to getting [the permit] yet. It was going to take some time, but he was really upset.
"I knew then that something wasn't quite right."
Busch ended up storming out of her office.
But since that day, Busch has come along just fine. Not only does he excel in wrestling but he's got some 250 takedowns. Not a bad stat.
Once Busch graduates from high school, he plans to attend the Firefighters Academy at Santa Ana College, then go on to Cal Poly Pomona. Some day, he'd like to save a life, but for now he's enjoying the remaining days of his senior year.