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Another Chance for Young Adults
Photos and Story by James Hill
By Merlin DouglassArchie Okon dropped out of Cleveland High School a couple of years ago. The 19-year-old says he just couldn’t take it seriously. One day he joined a friend in GED classes at PCC’s Cascade Campus. Just being on campus made him feel differently about himself. "It makes you want to learn,"he says, "It might be like that at any college, I don’t know. You get to see so many different types of cultures, so many different types of people. You get to talk to people about their life and it makes you want to learn more." After Okon completed his GED, he learned he could still continue his high school education and get college credit at the same time. Best of all, his high school district would pay for it through a contract with the community college. "A friend told me about the college bound program and he didn’t even want to do it,"he says, ?I was like ?are you serious? Did you hear that? They are going to pay for everything. Everything.’?PCC offers several approaches for young adults ages 16 through 20 who want to earn a high school diploma, a GED, or eventually move on to college. Last year, approximately 1,700 took advantage of the programs which give high school dropouts another chance. It is the largest alternative high school program in Oregon. Cleveland belongs to Portland Public Schools, one of the school districts that contracts with PCC to provide a variety of alternative education programs for these young adults who have either dropped out of school or been referred by the high school. In addition to Portland Public Schools, Tigard-Tualatin and Beaverton school districts contract with PCC."In these programs, we’re working with students who, for one reason or another, have not achieved yet academically,"says Linda Huddle, director of Alternative Programs at PCC. "We’re not working with students who have demonstrated abilities."Huddle says the students usually have other responsibilities in their lives. On an average, 50 percent of the students have one or more paying jobs. They may also have children or other family responsibilities or live on their own.Nineteen-year-old Svetlana Sivacheva from the former Soviet Union, the oldest of five children, lives with her family. She works two jobs, about 60 hours a week, and at night attends PCC’s Southeast Center. She started in classes designed for non-native speakers where the instructors are bilingual to improve her English reading, writing and speaking skills. After her language skills improved, she moved on to GED classes. "When I came to the U.S. a year ago, I didn’t speak any English at all. I don’t know what I would have done if this program hadn’t been available,"she says, "I will finish my GED this term and next term I want to go into the college-bound class."Alternative education classes are located across the PCC district – from Newberg to Beaverton to the college’s workforce training center on North Killingsworth Street in Portland, plus several other locations. Much of the program costs is borne by the high schools. Classes are offered both days and in the evenings, five nights a week. Students who attend are encouraged to apply for the college-bound program. Young adults who qualify for the high school completion program can apply directly to the program as well.When a student enters the program, they are assigned a resource specialist, a sort of personal counselor, based on their geographic location. In addition to counseling the student and helping them choose their course of study, the resource specialist also keeps statistical data on the students in the programs. According to state law, a student who has a GED doesn’t have a high school diploma, so they are still able to go to high school, says Huddle. "We try to get as many GED students as possible to think about continuing on so they can move toward the high school diploma, can also start getting some college credits, and continue to think about further education,"she says. However, getting into the college-bound program isn’t easy. Students must go through an application process which includes demonstrating they can do at least eighth grade level work, writing several essays, attending a two-day simulated college class with assigned homework, and living within a participating school district. Students participation, skills and attitude are evaluated. "We try to identify the students who are most ready,"Huddle says, "Those are the ones who make it in." Even then, there is one more hurdle to get over. First-term students attend a gateway class in groups of 20 called cohorts to gain study and time management skills that will help them cope with the mainstream college environment. "We’ve structured the courses of study in high school completion around the six CAM (certificate of advanced mastery) endorsement areas, "says Huddle, "And we’ve taken the college’s certificates, degrees and programs and figured out how they fit around the six state certified endorsement subjects."Most of the students, 1,400 of them, came from Portland Public Schools. This past year, according to Huddle, the rate of positive outcome for high school completion students from Portland Public Schools was at 76 percent. "PCC is a wonderful partner,"says Pat Burk, deputy superintendent for Portland Public Schools. "It’s (PCC alternative programs) not for every kid. Not every kid needs it. But we’re trying to provide multiple avenues for kids to stay engaged with education. And that is what PCC offers."