Los Angeles — Public schools sometimes feel like Little Orphan Annie.
They are distinctly individual. Each has its own face and character. And like any child, each wants to be recognized for its own self-worth.
But budget cuts, teacher layoffs, student-discipline problems, and forced busing tend to diminish public confidence in schools. A climate where schools are not appreciated and a feeling of institutional abandonment may gnaw at a school's unique spirit.
In Los Angeles there may eventually be no school orphans, thanks to a corporate-volunteer program called Adopt-A-School. It could teach Daddy Warbucks a lesson or two.
The companies participate in an innovative, one-business-on-one-school program that gets corporations to invest in neighborhood schools by donating manpower. Now in its third year, it bolsters the self-esteem of 117 public schools.
''We know there is a residue of goodwill towards our schools in the business community,'' says Wayne Carlson director of Adopt-A-School. ''We get one representative from business (often the owner in the case of a small business, usually an executive in a larger corporation) and the building principal to sit down and listen to each other's concerns about education.
''They then decide what it is that they can do for each other. The effect of involvement on the local level is contagious. People do something and want to do more.''
And though corporations have adopted schools in other cities, none have done it as extensively as Los Angeles, nor with as strong a sense of purporse. The goal is to provide each of the 600 schools in LA with its own corporate parent by the end of the decade.
''We are clear on the goal of having business people, rather than business money, involved,'' Mr. Carlson says. ''We limit the relationship of one company to one school, except for some large companies (107 businesses are now involved with 117 schools). We get the kind of relationship that will be long-lasting by this one-on-one identification. Our position comes from the original involvement of Atlantic Richfield Corporation, the first corporation in the Los Angeles area to adopt a school.''
The relationship of business and school is always special, like the one between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the students of the Solano Avenue Elementary School.
Having shared their third year together, the Dodgers and Solano are introducing sixth-grade classes to the business operations of the baseball organization. Six sessions planned by the ball club are presented by Dodger employees in Solano classrooms. Each classroom session is followed by a tour of that particular area at Dodger Stadium.
During the course of the year, the Dodgers also provide the Solano students with a character-building assembly that features Dodger players speaking on spiritual values, the importance of good health and nutrition, the value of hard work in the classroom, and the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.
The sports-hero aura is exclusive to the Dodgers. But other corporations are making contributions that are just right for the schools with which they are paired.
The Prudential Insurance Company releases 50 employees one to three hours a week to tutor students, and it provides a shuttle van to transport them to and from the school.
The Thrifty Drug Company adopted a school for the deaf; the family-owned Richmond Brothers Hardware and Lumber Company adopted Sierra Park Elementary School, the same elementary school the owners attended.
Often, courses are taught that would not exist without a corporate parent. IBM offers Wilshire Crest Elementary School students access to their corporate offices so they can learn how to use home computers. The Port of Los Angeles offers Dana Junior High students an introduction to the maritime world.
Student artwork was displayed in one company's employee cafeteria.
As might be expected, career counseling is one of the greatest helps provided by companies that adopt high schools.
''Some companies are pleasantly surprised to see how industrious the kids really are,'' Mr. Carlson says. One business offered a program on Saturdays. After seeing the determination of the students, who attended faithfully, company personnel people began to think of the school as a reliable source of new employees with the kinds of positive attitudes many companies had felt schools were negelcting.
''Such job recruitment is a natural outcome for the Adopt-A-School relationship, especially companies seeking minority employees,'' says Anne Ewing of Ameron Corporation, a gas and oil pipeline manufacturer. ''
Gabriel Perez of Ameron is a Mexican citizen who immigrated to the United States. He says of the students at El Sereno Junior High: ''They just don't understand the social impact of being children of illegal aliens. The first thing I tell them is to learn English. I was an attorney in Mexico, but without English I had to come up from the bottom of the barrel.''
Mr. Perez's comments, coming as they do from an employee of a company the students are familiar with, have influence far beyond any single classroom.