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Students spend a day with ‘Dreamers’ at Alder Elementary School
Story by Christine Egan. Photos by Thanh Huynh.
“Alder, Alder, where are you going?” called Colleen Sackos, assistant principal at Alder Elementary School, to a room of more than 200 kindergartners and first, second and third graders.
“College! College!” they yelled back in unison.
“First grade, first grade, what is your number?” Sackos continued with a roll call of grades.
“2029, 2029!” yelled the kids loudly with the year they will graduate from college.
This is the class to watch as this year’s first graders will be the first to go through the full “40-40-20” track expectation set by the Oregon State Department of Education.
In late October, a group of 11 PCC students and staff from the Southeast Center and Cascade Campus visited the school and their “adopted” first graders. Every year, since Alder Elementary was declared a dreamer school in 2010, PCC students have visited its first grade students, sharing stories about being a college student, personal career aspirations and a little about their own histories before becoming a PCC student. In addition to the visits from local college students, the “Dreamer School” kids also receive mentoring, tutoring and possibly financial assistance when they are ready to go to college.
In response to one first grader’s question about why he wanted to be a firefighter, PCC student Mitch Thornburg – in full firefighter regalia – shared his college goals, “I am studying to be a firefighter and then plan to go onto being a paramedic. We learn how do drive a fire truck and how to squirt water.”
Later in the morning, the kids got a chance to see and learn about the fire truck the college students use in their training.
Jana Daugherty, student outreach and orientation coordinator at the Southeast Center, has been working with Alder Elementary School to adopt the first grade students. When she asked what the students wanted to be when they grew up, it was obvious that the kids were already thinking big as answers included scientist, veterinarian, police officer, teacher, chef and chemist, to name a few.
In addition to PCC’s yearly visits to Alder Elementary School in the fall, the college and ASPCC will host a spring field trip for the first graders to the Southeast Center and sponsor a book drive in December. This year, a reading program and letter-writing campaign, and many other fun activities are in the pipeline.
In 2010, when the “I Have a Dream” Foundation chose the outer Southeast Portland school as the nation’s first “Dreamer” school, Alder School staff asked the Southeast Center to annually adopt the school’s first grade students to support and encourage the kids to think big about what they want to do with their lives after high school. Portland State University, Mt. Hood Community College and Concordia University have also adopted classes at the school.