|SUN rises at Prescott Elementary
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
In 1999, the city of Portland and Multnomah County founded SUN Community Schools in eight schools with the aim to ensure academic success and improve access to resources for students and their families. A school selection processes followed, and in 2003, 108 schools throughout the county were identified as having a high need for SUN support services based on geographic criteria and free and reduced lunch population. At the time, enough funding existed to establish the program in 46 schools.
Today, a decade later, SUN has moved into 67 schools, 27 elementary, 15 middle, 18 K-8, and seven high schools. Those 67 schools include five out of 11 schools in the Centennial School District, 10 of 14 schools in the David Douglas School District, five out of 16 schools in the Reynolds school district and seven out of 19 Gresham-Barlow schools. In Parkrose, SUN has a presence in three of six schools. Though the SUN program has a statistically impressive success rate, showing a 75-77 percent increase in test scores, and marked improvements in student classroom conduct and attitude towards others, admission into the program isn't necessarily a badge of honor due to the needs-based criteria to qualify.
Every SUN School has a multi-pronged administrative structure. The County selects the SUN site and establishes the program with the help of a school district liaison and the school's principal. The players then select a nonprofit lead agency to manage the program. Most schools also have multiple community agency partners that the lead agency then recruits to help with certain activities, demonstrating the goal of the program's name, Schools Uniting Neighborhoods.
The Shaver SUN program is managed by Metropolitan Family Services, and Parkrose High School has Portland Parks and Recreation as their lead agency.
When the time came for Prescott to select the agency to run their SUN program, principal Lopes said one nonprofit emerged as the obvious choice, and in selecting Self Enhancement Inc. as their lead agency, Prescott became the first school to host the organization in Mid-county.
With an aim to improve graduation rates by removing the barriers to success for at-risk African-American youth living in North and Northeast Portland, SEI operates a network of mentors, afterschool and summer enrichment programs, and family services to students attending the public schools, including and feeding into Jefferson, Grant and Benson high schools. By employing behavioral standards founded on the principles of integrity and respect, students mentored through SEI have demonstrated high attendance and graduation rates with few in-class conduct issues.
SEI currently manages SUN programs at five schools in North and inner Northeast Portland, all of which have high African-American populations. At these existing SUN sites, 77 to 91 percent percent of all students come from non-European backgrounds, and students of African ethnicity represent of the majority of these students, from 41 to 60 percent of the total school population.
At Prescott, 67 percent of students are of a non-European ethnic background, yet of that population, only 15 percent are African-American. Prescott's largest ethnic group is European, at 33 percent, followed closely, at 27 percent, by Hispanic students. In addition, 13 percent of Prescott students are Asian, and nine percent identify as mixed race. Both demographically and geographically, the partnership between SEI and Prescott may appear incongruous.
Not so, said Prescott principal Michael Lopes. In fact, the culturally specific programming attracted him to SEI. Our African-American population as well as our Latino population has increased a great deal over the past ten years and that is really happening all along east county, he said.
According to census data, the African-American population of Parkrose rose over 60 percent from 2000-2010. However, as of 2010, African-Americans still only comprised about 13 percent of the Parkrose population. In Parkrose Heights (the neighborhoods between 102nd and 122nd avenues south of 1-84), the African-American population rose 94 percent, yet only six percent identified as African-American. At the same time, Parkrose's Hispanic population rose 110 percent, doubling from eight percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2010. Parkrose Heights's Hispanic population rose 115 percent from 4.5 percent to over nine percent. The Asian population remained consistent in both areas around 11 percent. Still notable however, is that while those of European ethnicity declined, they still occupied the majority at 65 percent of the Parkrose population as well as 76 percent of households in Parkrose Heights.
Though tasked to apply their services to a completely new community at Prescott, SEI's philosophy-based approach allows for flexibility of implementation. What SEI brought to the table in terms of the interview process was really looking at each child, said Lopes. They really had a passion for the equity piece and that is really important in our overall efforts at school improvement.... They rose to the top in terms of their philosophy in the way that it matches to our academic goals for kids, especially when it comes to making sure that each one of our kids is successful.
LaShawn McCarthey, the SEI site manager for Prescott school, agreed, We definitely want to make sure we are culturally responsible and responsive to the needs that each school provides. We make sure that we have individuals who can connect with kids on a cultural level, but also being sensitive to the fact that there are a lot of different needs. So we try to find adults who are familiar with those populations so we can be more effective in what we do.
It's important to our school that our students are working with adults that are similar to their demographic, said Lopes, that they see people who look like them, come from the same neighborhood as them, and that was really important to us and SEI is very committed to doing that.
The synergy extends to the fact that the SEI behavioral standards promoted in their mentoring and school support programs coincide with Prescott's principles. Prescott's school standards include respect for self, respect for others, and respect for learning. 10-year-old Forrest Clark said he likes this after school program. It's not what after school programs are usually like. He added, I like all my classes.
SEI's six core standards emphasize the importance of such simple and basic manners and courtesies like greeting others with a smile, using courteous language, acknowledging personal space, being honest in words and actions, respecting other cultures, and reflecting inner beauty in outward appearance.
Together, McCarthey said their SUN program upholds standards similar to SEI's. Be safe, be respectful, and be responsible is a lot of what we promote in terms of encouraging positive behavior for kids - as well as another key component, which is really just the whole need for developing healthy relationships.
Their principles have meshed really well with our academic goals for kids, said Lopes.
When we come into the schools we take into account the needs of the school based off of the principal's input, said McCarthey. We definitely try to make sure that a lot of what we do is in line with the school improvement plans.
They have been a partner who has leaned over the table much more than I expected, said Lopes. They wanted to know what it looks like at school, what are the school expectations. And they really try to extend our school day and have it be truly a Prescott program.
Though their presence in East County is limited, Lopes said that many Prescott parents and kids are already familiar with SEI's outreach services. To help with tutoring, Parkrose High School students who volunteer with SEI are recruited.
All SUN lead agencies have a range of other services under their umbrella, which they may or may not incorporate into the schools they serve. Metropolitan Family Services (Shaver), IRCO, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization and NAYA, a Native American Youth organization, also run SUN programs, as does El Programa Hispano and their parent agency Catholic Charities.
Prescott Elementary SUN school operates like most others. So far, one hundred students have enrolled in daily homework help and two electives per week. SUN enrichment classes include garden club, dance, yoga, cooking, computer tech, soccer and drumming - all classes similar to those offered by other SUN schools.
The community aspect of the SUN mission has potential to represent the inclusivity aspect somewhat more than the student programs. For example, SEI and Prescott have hired a community liaison for Spanish speaking families to improve communication via direct outreach and through informal meetings, and the SUN showcases have been well attended by parents usually not involved in school events.
Once initiated into the SUN program, schools gain a wider network of resources and collaborative opportunities. For the first time in many years, Prescott offers a summer program in July for four weeks offered to 50 select students.
SEI also facilitates a three-week pre-kindergarten class for 20 incoming kindergarteners. Next year, they plan to incorporate more community and adult classes into the SUN program, yet the question of whether SEI's traditional outreach services for at-risk youth and their families will make headway into east county remains a question.
We are in conversation with Reynolds, David Douglas and Parkrose (School Districts) in terms of trying to expand (SEI) services to those particular schools, said McCarthey. Of course, it is dependent on the resources available, but we would definitely like to be able to provide those services to more students out this way.
SEI's most comprehensive intervention technique employs one-on-one mentoring that pairs a student with a SEI coordinator from elementary school through young adulthood, following an Individual Success Plan that outlines the student's academic, personal, and social goals, as well as the strategies used to reach them. Three years ago, SEI launched an initiative to welcome every Jefferson High School freshman into its program, creating a 'Whole School Model' that envelops all students with its standards and strategies for self-improvement, not just those deemed at-risk. This expansion of services recognizes that the SEI model may benefit others beyond its traditional target group.
Still, identifying and supporting at-risk students remains the paramount concern of the organization, and McCarthey said he has the responsibility to intervene if a Prescott SUN student demonstrates the need. If there is a need for particular resources it is my job to make sure to connect them to some of the resources we have through the SEI community and family programs, he said. If there are energy or housing assistance needs or counseling, I connect the kids and families with the resources we have so that we can eliminate some of the barriers families may have that could impact the child's learning.
As far as the need at Prescott, Lopes said he considers many Prescott students 'at-risk.' I consider any student of color and any student who speaks English as a second language at-risk. He added, There is an opportunity gap in our school system for those kids and our goal is to close that gap for them. They are going to get the same education that every kid in our school receives, and we are going to demonstrate that through their achievement and the opportunities that we are going to provide them.
I think that is where SEI and Prescott are both coming from, we want to make sure that equity is part of how we approach everything. And equity doesn't mean equal; equity means that we are raising the bar for everybody, and that is the fun and the challenge of it.
In reaching out to east county school districts, SEI obviously identified a need for their services. This has been a fantastic opportunity to be here for Prescott elementary and be part of the SUN program and I hope that SEI will get an opportunity to expand because I really believe in all that we offer children and their families, said McCarthey. I think that as you see the demographics changing certainly the need for programs such as ours is great so hopefully we will get an opportunity to expand and help meet the needs of the community.
Lopes concurred, We were really excited that they were interested in coming out this way and starting to build new relationships. I think it is kind a new endeavor for them as well as it is for us, and that makes our match even better as well because we are learning together.
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