Tonight Mayor Sam Adams has been hosting a presentation at city hall on the summer Youth Corps and 9th Grade Counts programs he and Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler have organized this summer, that are aiming to halve Portland's abysmal 43 percent high school dropout rate. The Mercury first reported on these programs back in July.
"I think we had a tremendous summer," said Wheeler, who partnered with Adams on the approach, chairing the mayor's education cabinet. "When we started some of these efforts last spring we were short on time, we had an ambitious agenda. We were pointedly acknowledging key statistics around school retention, and we're very pleased with the community response." "The most important feedback we've gotten has been the feedback from the kids themselves," Wheeler continued. "I want to thank you, mayor."
"Well I want to thank you, chair," said Adams. No, you hang up. No, YOU. Etcetera. Kumbayas aside, 58 businesses and 18 colleges provided 135 site visits for the 500 students involved in the Youth Corps program, while 1500 students in the 9th Grade Counts program took extra classes to make sure they don't fall behind when they start high school. The programs will be evaluated against the first set of high school tests in November. Read some heart-warming accounts of the programs after the jump.
Rhyming-named attorney Joss Ross hosted some of the Youth Corps kids. "Young lawyers in this state have expressed concerns about the lack of diversity," he said. "And we think one of the ways to encourage diversity is to reach out to young people in this community and encourage them to seriously look at a legal career here in the state."
"Students began asking questions like how much does college cost? What classes do I need to take so that I can get to college," said a presenter from a Native American youth nonprofit, who took part in the Youth Corps program. "One of our college visits this summer was to the Northwest College of Construction. I received a call from a parent whose son had been on the visit and came home, told her all about his visit, and said he wanted a career in construction. She said that was the first time that he had spoken positively about his future."
"All of us together have been able to provide what none of us alone could do," said the mayor's education strategies coordinator Jane Ames. "And it's been a real privilege to be involved."
Kids were also shown life skills, like opening a bank account and learning about maintaining good credit at the Unitus Community Credit Union.
"He looked as if he were drooping and withered," said a manager from the Portland Water Bureau, who hosted an intern named Nate, describing their first encounter—the city ran some pilot internships at its bureaus in addition to the two larger youth programs and hopes to expand the program to 500 kids next year. "As Nate and I worked together on projects, we talked about what his concept of work was like, and his concept was that you had to have a hard boss, and it was drudgery," said the manager. But..."he was like a plant in need of water. Nate's participation in the program was like watering his soul, and his spirit, and the leaves of his future." Dude was crying by the end of his presentation. You could see it meant a lot to him.
"I do believe that a large part of getting work is the unmeasurable things like being on time and dressing appropriately," said George Weatheroy, a sergeant with the Portland Police Bureau, who also hosted some of the Youth Corps kids. "It's another corny phrase, but we definitely have to continue to keep hope alive for the youth. If there's no hope, there's despair, and where there's despair there's drug use and alcohol abuse and all the negative things we see in society."
Veronica Rivera participated in Youth Corps because she needed to recover academic credit and to make money, she said. "I learned that I have to be responsible," she said. "I learned to be patient." "This program has really influenced me to think about what I want to do with my future."
"Is this something you might be interested in doing?" asked City Commissioner Randy Leonard, of a Youth Corps kid who had been to the Portland Fire Bureau. "Well, it's a lot of work," he replied. "You can do it," Leonard said. "It kind of got me out of the position I was in, from not going to school," said the young man. "I was going to Parkrose, which had a 78 percent dropout rate, and now I got into Benson."