Steve Orel

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Steve Orel (born December 20, 1953 in Los Angeles, California; died July 7, 2007 in Birmingham) was co-director of the World of Opportunity civil rights, social justice, education and job readiness program in Gate City.

Orel is the son of Ben and Jeannette Orel. He grew up in Los Angeles and was an organizer for the National Lawyer's Guild and helped to organize that city's People's College of Law, a non-profit community-run educational program. He moved to Birmingham as an organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, assisting families left jobless by plant closures in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement. He also joined the Birmingham Human Rights Project and actively opposed the activities of the Ku Klux Klan.

Until 2000, he ran an adult education program within the Birmingham City Schools system. After 522 students were "advised to withdraw" that summer, Orel protested what he considered to be a cruel tactic to raise test scores in the system. He lost his position when his adult education program was dissolved in the fallout.

The incident led Orel to become an activist against "high stakes testing" in schools. His account of the administration's actions has appeared in several indictments of current educational practice. Orel himself worked with Charles Todel, a Salesian monk, to establish the World of Opportunity (WOO), a small educational center in Gate City in 2000. WOO accepted many of the students that had been involuntarily dismissed from Birmingham high schools. Through the center, Orel helped scores of students get back on track, with 75 earning their GED and 45 going on to college. Orel received ACT NOW's "Courage in Education Award" in 2003, as well as the John Dewey Award from the Vermont Society for the Study of Education, a Southern Hero award from SouthernLINC Wireless, and a Library Champion award from the Jefferson County Public Library Association. The WOO was named one of America's 25 best small schools by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Orel died of colon cancer in June 2007. He was survived by his wife, the former Glenda Jo Creel, and son, Justin. He was honored by a place in the Birmingham Gallery of Distinguished Citizens in 2009.


  • Orel, Steve (2003) "Left Behind in Birmingham: 522 Pushed-Out Students." Silent No More: Voices of Courage in American Schools. Heinemann. ISBN 0325004714


  • "Steve Orel" obituary (July 12, 2007) Birmingham News.
  • Gordon, Amy (July 11, 2007) "World of Opportunity director Steve Orel dies of cancer at 53." The Birmingham News
  • Woodbery, Evan and Elaine Witt (June 2000) "Accounts of Woodlawn students conflict." Birmingham Post-Herald
  • Viadero, Debra (July 2004) "One Last Chance". Education Week. Vol. 23, No. 42, pp. 34-7

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