After being considered for closure, Jefferson High was transformed in 2011 into Jefferson High School Middle College for Advanced Studies. The new model provided the majority African-American student body - most of whom are low-income - with extra resources and the option to take college courses.
At the same time, Portland Public Schools tapped United Way nonprofit partner Self Enhancement Inc. to help turn things around. When the district was seeing graduation rates among African-American kids as low as 44 percent, 98 percent of SEI’s low-income African-American program enrollees were graduating on time. Eighty-five percent were going on to college.
SEI launched a “Whole School Model” of services at Jefferson, offering comprehensive mentoring, tutoring and 24/7 wraparound support services to every enrolled student.
“It’s not that kids can’t handle it academically, it’s that there are so many other barriers,” SEI President and CEO Tony Hopson, Sr. said. “It gets in the way of showing up to school every day with a bright mind ready to learn.”
SEI’s comprehensive approach looks to boost student success by helping kids’ families meet basic needs, while offering additional support through counseling and parenting classes.
“What we’ve been able to prove, is that with the right support African-American students can learn at the same level, if not higher, than anyone else,” Hopson said.
SEI’s success in Jefferson helped shape the model for United Way’s, and co-funder Multnomah County’s, High School Graduation initiative, serving 800 kids in two school districts. “United Way is coordinating partners and evaluating progress to identify what works to keep those kids in school and get a diploma,” said Keith Thomajan, CEO of United Way of the Columbia-Willamette.
“After a few years, as we see the results, we’ll use our regional footprint to do it again, in other high need school districts. In a state that’s 49th in the nation in high school graduation rates, we think that’s the way to turn things around.”