RAC Blog

Oregon’s STEM Hub Network Welcomes Two Americorp VISTA Members

In 2015, Oregon’s statewide network of eleven regional STEM Hubs was selected as one of 27 communities recognized by the National STEM Funders Network for innovative cross-sector partnership work focused on alignment and coordination of systems to support applied learning opportunities for Oregon’s learners. With support from the Chief Education Office and the Oregon Department of Education, South Metro Salem STEM Partnership (SMSP) and the Southern Oregon STEM Hub applied and were awarded two full-time Americorps VISTA volunteers through the STEM Funders Network’s STEM Ecosystems Initiative to support communications and the integration of youth voice and empowerment in design and decision-making regarding applied learning opportunities.

SMSP Welcomes Communications volunteer

The South Metro-Salem STEM Partnership, hosted by Oregon Tech in Wilsonville, is excited to welcome an Americorps VISTA member in August to support capacity-building goals in the area of communication and outreach for the entire state STEM Hub network.  Ian Zentner, a recent computer science graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz, will bring enthusiasm and skills developed through his extracurricular management of a college community radio program to the work of the STEM Hubs.

Ian will support the STEM Hub Network in two main ways.  First, he will facilitate the development of shared communication and marketing materials that support the development and distribution of some common core messages.  This work is critically important in strengthening the larger network infrastructure that unites the STEM Hubs.  Second, the South Metro-Salem STEM partnership developed and launched an online platform in early 2015, Oregon Connections, for industry professionals to engage with educators and students to expose students to the real-world applications of academic concepts and available career pathways.  Investments from the Department of Education and Higher Education Coordinating Commission’s Office of Community College and Workforce Development allowed for the expanded licensure of Oregon Connections to teachers throughout the state, beginning in Fall 2016.  Ian will support the development of training and recruitment materials to bring industry and community professionals into the system to support student learning in all areas of the state.

The Southern Oregon STEM Hub Welcomes Youth Voice VISTA Member

The Southern Oregon STEM Hub is thrilled to welcome an Americorps VISTA member, Allison Sweeney, who will support the Hub’s work in incorporating youth voice into STEM initiatives. With Allison’s leadership as a program coordinator, The Southern Oregon STEM Hub will pilot an initiative called the Chief Science Officer program beginning Fall 2016 with an eye to building a statewide network of young STEM leaders who will be empowered to take action and to be at decision-making tables regarding STEM opportunities in their schools and across the State of Oregon. Chief Science Officers are peer elected middle and high school students who build leadership skills and use them to bring exciting STEM experiences to their campus in order to foster a culture of curiosity and a passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, helping to build a diverse and creative workforce. They also represent their peers in the STEM community and provide youth input to leaders in education and industry, providing a bridge between our current learners and the fastest growing sector of careers. Allison will focus her first year on building relationships with schools, community organizations, and industry partners to create a network of committed adults who will support the training and work of 50 CSOs who will be elected in Spring 2017. Over the next three years we hope to support at least 80 Chief Science Officers representing all 13 school districts in Jackson, Josephine, and Klamath Counties.

Oregon’s 2016 Reach Higher Summit

Landing Page Reach Higher

Oregon students share reflections on challenges and opportunities related to planning for their future at the Reach Higher Oregon Summit. Thanks to the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative and to Americas Promise and their Grad Nation campaign for their partnership in putting on the Summit.


Building a Web of Support; Study shows ways to keep students in school and headed for graduation

Seven threats

Gerry Obrian: Seven Threats

The Klamath Promise has been striving to improve student achievement in Klamath County with the goal of 100 percent high school graduation. Key in the Klamath Promise’s mission is the phrase, “we all play a part.”

The part everyone plays can make the difference between a graduate’s success or failure. According to a report released last year from America’s Promise and Grad Nation, the more support a young person has, the more likely he or she is to succeed and graduate from high school.

“Don’t Quit on Me” was published in September 2015. It builds on the 2014 report, “Don’t Call Them Dropouts.” While the previous report focused on why students didn’t complete high school, the 2015 report examines what fellow students, families and communities can do to help students succeed.

“The more sources of support a young person has, the more likely he or she is to stay in school,” is one of the simplest statements of the Don’t Quit on Me’s conclusion. Even one person’s influence can bring a dropout back to the classroom. “This anchoring relationship allows the young person to access available community assets – and to leverage internal strengths. This trusted, stabilizing adult … provides a foundation that allows a young person to consider new possibilities for the future and engage a Web of Support.”

That “Web of Support” is what the study calls friends, adults, school and friends who, together, help students achieve.

“To put it simply,” the report reads, “some young people may be standing in a room that contains all the support they need, but they need someone else to turn on the lights so they can see what’s there and reach for it.”

Adverse Life Experiences

Don’t Quit on Me identifies the “hurdles” to graduation by a more technical term, “adverse life experiences.” These are detrimental things that can happen in a young person’s life, especially between the ages of 14 to 18, that keep him or her from graduating and likely from succeeding later in life.

Common adverse life experiences are: suspension or expulsion; becoming a teen parent; experiencing a major health issue, homelessness or moving many times, often called mobility.

The study listed these findings

n Students who stop going to high school have had twice as many adverse life experiences as students who don’t drop out.

n More than half of students who stop going to high school had five or more adverse life experiences, compared to 20 percent of those who graduated

n For each additional adverse life experience, the chances of not graduating from high school rises by 19 percent.

n Being suspended or expelled more than doubles the odds of dropping out.

Building the web

How to combat these adverse life experiences and detrimental statistics? Relationships, the study says.

This is where the Web of Support comes in.

One Don’t Quit on Me’s key findings states: Social supports from multiple sources buffer the effects of adverse life experiences for most young people. However, those who are facing the greatest adversity need more intensive support than family, school and friends can provide.

It may sound obvious, but the more support from more places better combats those bad experiences earlier in life. The ones that made a difference were people who “cared about me, treated me fairly, showed me how to do things, helped me solve problems, made sure I had what I needed for school,” students told Don’t Quit on Me.

“The young people we interviewed and surveyed showed us that the strength, number and nature of relationships in their lives are important factors that influence their engagement with school,” the report reads. “What we learned, in part, is that small interventions can make a big difference for most youth. You don’t need to be everyone to be someone for a young person.”

High school graduation more than a big deal: It’s absolutely vital

For the past couple of weeks high school students have been going through graduation exercises, sitting in folding chairs in cap and gown, waiting for their name to be called and then striding across the stage to pick up their diplomas that mark an important stepping stone in their lives.

Our congratulations to them and their families and to the teachers who helped them in high school, and, we hope, encouraged them to move on to advanced education in some form, whether at the university level, or technical training.

We also greatly appreciate the efforts being made to recognize the value of the high school education, which in today’s economy — and by itself — has to be considered as an essential means to something more, rather than as an end goal.

High school can be difficult — not just for the students, but their parents who have to make sure the kids get to school each day. Good attendance is one of the basics of a good education — a key one.

Klamath County has been working on improving the rate of high school graduation. It takes effort and it involves the community.

Most of the effort has been in providing help for those who need in various forms, such as mentors and tutors. But we also like the idea of community recognition shown in the “Graduation Sensation” parade down Main Street in Klamath Falls Thursday with students in cap and gown.

It was sponsored by Klamath Promise organization, which, along with its partners, is trying to increase the local graduation rate. That’s a years-long process and is important to the community. We need educated young people. (More about the organization, and how to help, can be found athttp://klamathpromise.org.)

High school graduation is a big deal. That comment is for those who think it isn’t. Some of them, may come from earlier generations when a job “in the mill” was always available and the wages were good. Most of those jobs have left and even the ones that still exist dependend on modern technology, which require more education. It’s a new economy.

Klamath County residents should be thankful there are people working hard to improve the graduation rate and stressing the importance of education beyond that.

Salute the new graduates, especially the ones who struggled, but stuck with it.

Salute their moms and dads, or those filled the gap when one or both were missing and someone else stepped in.

And continue to let the graduates and the ones coming up behind them know that high school graduation is not only a big deal, but vital.

Community partners seek to help open doors

Published on May 4, 2016 8:35AM

A number of community partners seek to ease access of obtaining services through ‘No Wrong Door’ collaboration.

A number of community partners seek to ease access of obtaining services through ‘No Wrong Door’ collaboration.

The path to finding the appropriate resources for education, child care, nutrition or housing services can sometimes be a bewildering jumble of doors.

A network of community partners in Morrow, Umatilla and Union counties is opening the door for families who are trying to navigate through the process of seeking information and assistance. Through the implementation of a “No Wrong Door” system, families will be able to access community resources from any starting point. The system ensures any of the doors they choose will be the right one.

A person seeking assistance will no longer need to know what services they may qualify for in order to access the supports they need. By completing a short application, people will be linked to a recruiter who is knowledgeable of all child and family services including, but not limited to, preschool opportunities, parenting education, child care, health and human services, housing and transportation.

By accessing the No Wrong Door icon on any partner agency’s website or visiting the office of a community partner participating in the No Wrong Door process, a family will be contacted within two business days. After the initial contact, appropriate services will then be determined as quickly as possible.

Partners in the project include the Blue Mountain Early Learning Hub, Umatilla County Public Health, Umatilla-Morrow Head Start, InterMountain Education Service District, WIC, Child Care Resource and Referral, Healthy Families Oregon, the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative, Nurse-Family Partnership, Pioneer Relief Nursery, Oregon Child Development Coalition, Eastern Oregon Head Start and Morrow County Public Health.

“The program will allow families to access community resources or to allow those assisting a family in accessing resources to do so efficiently and effectively,” said Cade Burnette, co-coordinator of the Blue Mountain Early Learning Hub.

The approach is not intended to replace the intake process of specific agencies that are already in place, Burnette said, but rather to act as a safety net to ensure all families have easy access to the resources that they may be eligible for.

For more information, call Burnette at 541-564-6878.

Video: Oregon’s Regional Achievement Collaboratives

At a recent convening of RAC partners, leaders in communities across the state talked about the unprecedented partnerships they have formed, and the barriers they are busting in their region on behalf of students. Watch this short video to learn more.

RaC Video Tile


Results in Students Accessing College – All Hands Raised


The following is from All Hands Raised

Dear Friends –

This fall we began working with two ready and willing high schools in Multnomah County to increase the number of seniors who complete federal financial aid forms (FAFSA)–a key predictor of whether a student will enroll in any kind of post-secondary program, and the only way a student can access federal financial aid. Each year in Oregon our students leave nearly $36 million on the table in unclaimed federal aid.

The staff at these two high schools, Franklin High School and Gresham High School, were already collaborating to enhance practices this year. And they knew that working together, we could better measure specific practices that directly correlate with improved FAFSA completion rates.

There is good news. As of April 8, 67.7% of the senior class at Franklin have completed the FAFSA forms, a 13.1% increase over last year and the highest completion rate in the county. At Gresham 46.7% of the senior class have completed the forms, an 8.6% increase.* 

Behind the data, there are targeted practices being implemented by amazing counselors, teachers, staff members and community partners who are aligning their efforts to ensure more of their students are able to complete these complicated and necessary forms. At Franklin, one such teacher, Kate Moore made adjustments to her curriculum, shifting the timing of the personal finance unit in her seniors-only Economics class from May to February. As part of their school wide outreach, the school’s college and career counselors, as well as financial aid advisers from local colleges, then volunteered in her classroom to work directly with her students to complete the FAFSA .

When we talked to Kate about this shift she reflected, “The majority of students were able to begin, and many completed, the FAFSA as a result of this in-class push. For those who did not complete, I encouraged them to use additional class time to work with our college counselors to get the forms filled out. As of today, more than 80% of my seniors have completed the FAFSA.”

Earlier this week FAFSA teams from both Franklin and Gresham attended the All Hands Raised Leadership Council where they shared their promising practices and received feedback on how they might think about their work moving forward.

Practices like these are also being implemented at Gresham, including: improved alignment of community partners, like College Possible and Mt Hood Community College, to reach more students and families; use of existing assemblies as a time to work in a focused way with seniors; and targeted help for those students who need to garner more clarity around their plans after high school and to better understand how the FAFSA plays a role in those plans.

The teams at Franklin and Gresham are examples of the progress of we can make when we commit to improvement, use data as a tool, and make changes that make sense for our students.



P.S. – You can monitor the continued weekly progress of FAFSA completion rates at all of our community’s high schools on our web site.

* Source: Federal Student Aid Data Center. School-level data shows significantly higher completion rates due to how seniors are counted in federal data.

Chronic absenteeism: Getting students to stay in school

Chronic absenteeism: Getting students to stay in school

The Klamath Promise is looking at chronic absenteeism, too. At its March meeting, school officials discussed the topic and how schools and the community can help address it.

“Chronic absenteeism is at the root of problems with graduation rates,” said Anne Hiller Clark, Klamath Promise coordinator. “If a student misses school, they’re less likely to graduate.”

Frustrated by truancy

“The existing evidence could not be clearer. Academic achievement from kindergarten forward, high school graduation, and post-secondary enrollment are all highly sensitive to absenteeism. Missing even some school can have negative impacts, especially for students who live in or near poverty. Missing a lot of school, at any time, throws students completely off track to educational success.”

“If they’re not there in those first three years, it creates gaps as a system,” Clark agreed. “We have a hard time sustaining the catch-up.”

“As you can see this is a high priority for us as we have so many students with attendance problems,” said Klamath Falls City Schools Superintendent Paul Hillyer. “We are fighting the problem but still very frustrated with the high degree of truancy we still are dealing with.”

Absenteeism and poverty

Hillyer and Clark both agree, there is a link between poverty and students missing school.

“Poverty and mobility have been shown to be the biggest factors correlated to chronic absenteeism,” Hillyer said. “This is also true of dropping out of school.”

The Johns Hopkins University study found many correlations between poverty and students missing school.

In Maryland in 2011, the study found students on free and reduced-price lunch were absent 10.9 percent of the time in elementary school, 15.8 percent of the time in middle school and 30.8 percent of the time in high school. Students not eligible for the lunch program had rates about half that (5 percent in elementary and middle school and 11.8 percent in high school).

Similar, but smaller, rates were found in Oregon in 2011, the study said.

Klamath Falls City Schools chronically absent rates ranged from 14 percent to 28 percent. Klamath County School District rates ranged from 12 percent to 16 percent. This was for all students, not just poverty students.


In the Klamath County School District, some of the highest chronic absenteeism rates are highest in the earliest grades, grades Kindergarten through third.

Clark said to combat this, she tries to tell her kindergarten students’ parents about how important attendance is, even in the beginning.

“We’re creating positive attendance habits. If they’re missing a lot in kindergarten, it tends to roll over into other grades,” she said. “It’s a cultural thing. It’s building that understanding that school is important and they have to be here and what the expectations for kindergarten are. If they’re missing a lot of days, they’re not going to meet those expectations.”

Making a difference

When students arrive at schools around the Basin, teachers and staff make an effort to ensure the students feel welcomed. It’s important that they are there.

“The whole system has to be on board making sure the kids are greeted at the door,” Clark said, adding they tell students, “ ‘We’re glad you’re here. What’s going on?’

“One of the things that’s important is building that one-on-one interaction between students and somebody at the school,” Hiller Clark said.

Hillyer said staff in city schools are working every day to combat absenteeism.

They combine carrots and sticks to try to encourage students to attend,” he said.

When students improve attendance, staff encourage, appreciate, recognize and reward students.

There are school-wide rewards, such as recognition for best attending classrooms. Schools post classes’ attendance rates in hallways. Teachers talk with parents at conferences, tying attendance to grades, earning credits and working toward graduation.

Dedicated staff work with kids

If students are missing school, staff meet with students and parents for individual conferences to talk about the problem, send letters home for poor attendance and discuss consequences (such as the Youth Attendance Team, when students are truant).

“We also dedicate resources to this problem in the form of personnel hired specifically to deal with it including counselors, deans of students, and assistant principals whose time is largely dedicated to improving attendance,” Hillyer said, noting the city district is spending about $500,000 annually to address the issue.

All schools call home if a student does not show up for class.

Community support

Similarly, the community can emphasize the importance of education.

“I think the community can help in many ways,” Hillyer said. “One of the biggest is just being aware of how important this issue is and encourage students whenever possible to be in school. This can be through work, through family, through neighborhood relationships, you name it.”

n Medical providers can schedule appointments so students don’t miss a full day of school.

n Stores and businesses can offer rewards to students who bring in report cards with good attendance rates.

n Businesses that employ teens can schedule so they don’t miss school. Schools are emphasizing to families to schedule vacations during school vacations, so students don’t miss class.

“We are only limited by our imaginations and our determination to solve the problem,” Hillyer said.

The Klamath Promise will start working with schools to better track more data related to chronic absenteeism, Hiller Clark said. It also will form focus groups with students to hear from them about attendance.

“We’ve heard from schools,” Hiller Clark said. “We want to hear from students’ perspective also. It’s important to have information from both sides.


Popular after-school program faces changes aimed at racial equity

Popular after-school program faces changes aimed at racial equity
By Betsy Hammond | The Oregonian/OregonLive
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on April 13, 2016 at 8:08 AM, updated April 14, 2016 at 2:42 PM

Multnomah County officials are shifting more control of a popular after-school program to minority- and immigrant-led non-profit agencies. They predict that will lead to better results, particularly for students of color, who make up most of the program’s target audience.

But the switch, largely directed by white women leaders in county government, has had the ironic effect of angering some minority students and families who take part in the SUN Schools program, including dozens of African American and African immigrant students at East Portland’s David Douglas High School.

Their main complaints? No one asked David Douglas students or parents about the switch until the arrangement was finalized. And they say, the county’s insistence that their school’s SUN program be run by an agency specializing in helping African Americans runs counter to their school’s ethos, which is to honor all races and cultures.

David Douglas’s student population is roughly 40 percent white and 7 percent African American. Latinos are the largest minority group, at 25 percent.

“I don’t want a SUN program that focuses on African American students,” Martin Warren, an African American senior and one of dozens of students protesting the switch, told Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and other county leaders who came to the school last week. “This is not a black school. This whole school is diverse.”

Most schools affected by the change haven’t seen that sort of friction. But officials acknowledge it will take more work to prevent rocky transitions as mostly beloved staffers, some of whom are people of color, are replaced with employees of a new culturally specific nonprofit.

County leaders expect a clear payoff.

There is something inherent in the way culturally specific providers work that will benefit the kids in these schools who need it the most,” Kafoury said.

Across Multnomah County, 80 high-poverty schools host SUN programs, which offer free after-school programming and other services that can include homework help, dance and art classes, free snacks and dinners, field trips, food pantries and summer school. The aim is to improve students’ school attendance, grades, and reading and math skills — and raise graduation rates.

“Every school that has a SUN school loves their SUN school,” Kafoury said. “They love their site coordinator and the love the services.”

Still, she said, the program can do even better. She wants SUN schools to emphasize connecting with and showing deep empathy for the county’s most academically and socially marginalized students.

The decision to embrace culturally specific programming means 17 SUN schools will change from familiar providers such as Camp Fire, Metropolitan Family Service or Impact Northwest to one of five minority-led nonprofits, most commonly the Latino Network or Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization.

Seven schools in Portland Public Schools, three in David Douglas, three in Reynolds and two each in Centennial and Gresham-Barlow will switch over in June.

Overall, 60 percent of county-funded SUN programs will be run by culturally specific agencies. Officials chose that number because slightly more than 60 percent of the county’s low-income students younger than 7 are children of color.

Research shows people of color benefit from programs run by people of their own race or culture. Black students learn more when at least some of their teachers are black; Latinas are more successful in recovery programs run by and tailored to Latinas.

But the changes to SUN schools aren’t designed to work that way, said Liesl Wendt, director of Multnomah County’s Department of Human Services. All SUN schools will continue to serve students of all races and cultures.

When Self Enhancement Inc. takes charge of David Douglas High’s SUN program, for example, the long-established North Portland nonprofit will bring a deep understanding of black youth and families and an incredible track record of helping black students graduate from high school and go to college.

But it will be expected to serve Latino, Pacific Islander, white and other students as skillfully and as energetically as it works with black students, Wendt said.

Diana Hall, program supervisor for the county’s SUN programs, said the intent is to expose students of color to programs led by people with “lived experience” of coming from a particular marginalized culture – but not necessarily one that matches their own.

And though there’s no research that shows programs run by one minority group achieve better results with young people from other groups, Ann Curry-Steves, founding director of the Center to Advance Racial Equity at Portland State University, says it makes sense that they would.

“It’s the omission of whiteness,” Curry-Steves said. “They feel like an insider in that they are walking into a non-dominant space.”

Officials further decided that the list of culturally specific SUN programs should reflect Multnomah County’s minority population: 15 schools would be set aside for a Latino agency, eight for an African American group, six for an Asian/Pacific Islander group, and two each for an African immigrant group, Slavic group and Native American group.

That breakdown means some agencies will run SUN programs in which the majority of students come from other cultures, Hall said.

It also explains why nonprofits with Slavic leaders and deep knowledge of Slavic culture were the only group eligible to run SUN programs at David Douglas’s Gilbert Park Elementary and Reynold’s Walt Morey Middle School, where Slavic students make up about 16 percent and 5 percent of the respective enrollments.

Similarly, the Native American Youth and Family Center was the only agency qualified to apply to run SUN Schools at Lynch View and Lynch Wood elementary schools in the Centennial School District, where 2 percent of students identify as Native American.

Lynch View Principal Jim Mangan said students and parents aren’t generally aware which nonprofit is managing their SUN program. What matters to them is the site manager and other SUN staffers who work in the school each day, and there’s a chance the school’s current site manager can stay.

But having the school’s SUN staff hired and directed by a Native American agency should benefit all students who take part, Mangan said, particularly students of color.

Like nearly all students in and around Portland, he said, they attend a school staffed mainly by white teachers and principals who answer to a white superintendent and a majority white school board. They live in a city where white people hold most of the economic, political and cultural power.

Having a minority group oversee the SUN school and shape Lynch View’s overall culture will be good for everyone, Mangum said.

“Any time we are able to look through a cultural lens other than that of the dominant community,” he said, “it’s always going to benefit our community.”

— Betsy Hammond




You are Invited: Statewide Town Halls on Education

You are Invited: Statewide Town Halls on Education

Beginning March 31st, our partner agency, the Oregon Department of Education will be hosting one of eleven community forums across the state to Reimagine Education in Oregon. 

 The conversations are designed to help the State receive community input to develop a framework for a State Plan required by the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA).  ESSA was passed by Congress earlier this year and replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The legislation affords states greater flexibility to locally define improvement, accountability, and assessment systems for K-12 schools.

 As they begin to craft a plan, the Department wants to hear from students, families, educators and community leaders about what they value most within a system of education.

For more information about upcoming Town Halls, click here.

To learn more about ESSA click here