Open School East is the newest member of the Open School family, a family with a tradition of excellence for the last 47 years. OSE currently serves over 135 students, and is continuing to grow. The students are bright, promising, and have been shown to be quite capable, though they were not being well served in traditional school environments. Many of the Open School students were at risk of dropping through the cracks, or at best, a delayed graduation, but OSE’s dedicated staff and flexible philosophy provide a rigorous academic standard, a well-deployed team of highly trained teachers and counselors, and involvement from the local community. All told, these supports give more than 90% of OSE’s students the opportunity to turn things around, advocate for their own success, and get back on track for a timely graduation.
We join Open School East in believing that every student brings valuable knowledge, experience, and perspectives. We also know that there is a very poor infrastructure for turning those lived experiences into academic credit. Not everyone learns in the same way, and not everything is learned in the classroom. While OSE has done excellent work in providing new methods and pedagogies to meet students where they are, there are other obstacles. Some students are missing important credits, and many have other responsibilities and interests. Previous Capstone students have started work to determine how we can best help OSE’s students advocate for their learned experience to count toward credits for high school completion as well as get students actively engaged in the community. Working with local school districts and the community at large, we have started to build a scaffolding to help the students advocate for their success in schooling by following their true passions and priorities. This opens a world of possibilities, making the learning environment infinitely more flexible and engaging, offering possible career paths, and making sure that they get credit for all of the knowledge, skills, and perspectives that they bring, all while making sure that the state of Oregon recognizes their incredible achievements and commitment to their goals.
As an example, if a student takes ballet, or a martial arts class, at a local studio, why can’t that count toward Physical Education credit? If someone cooks for their family, shouldn’t that work towards Home Economics? Or if they are helping their family rebuild a car, isn’t that the same as Auto Shop? A number of students at OSE are already bilingual, why can’t they demonstrate that proficiency and bypass the required hours of sitting and learning a language they already know, or a third, just to be considered on equal footing with a traditional student?
Building off of what previous terms have worked on, we identified two main objectives to this project, and divided our work accordingly. Claire and Adam worked to engage with the school districts from which OSE pulls students that are deemed at risk of not having their needs met by traditional schools. Ryan and Sarah approached local businesses and community hubs to find partners who might be willing to offer experience and learning opportunities to the students.
Last term, Adam had made contact with the Portland Public School District. Based on his success there, Claire and Adam contacted two of the others: Reynolds School District and David Douglas School District. The contact for Reynolds is Chris Greenhalgh and the contact for David Douglas is Kate McLaughlin. Both contacts reached back out to us with interest in partnering with us and Open School East for our alternative credit recovery options. Knowing who to contact, and making that contact, is important, but it isn’t, by itself, enough.
We faced many challenges in pursuit of our task, and most of them were centered around communication and scheduling. The first challenge was that when we called the districts it was hard to figure out who exactly we needed to talk to regarding credit recovery. Once we figured that out the next challenge was communicating with them. We first tried visiting offices unannounced, however this did not score us a chance to speak to the person in question, because they were either out of the office or busy in other meetings. Our final challenge became reaching them by phone. It is often a game of phone tag and almost impossible to receive a call back same day.
As this project continues, we recommend that the next students who take this on try to seal the deal with both Reynolds and David Douglas using the contacts provided above. We also encourage being specific and deliberate when dealing with each layer of bureacracy, and exercising patience. Hopefully, each school district will be an easier sell than the previous ones, and we can get all of the information and co-operation we need to implement OSE’s credit recovery plan. However, this may take time, and it helps to build a foundation of trust and respect with the people we are approaching.
Sarah and Ryan walked in expanding circles around Open School East, speaking to local businesses and community centres. While we had very little specific success, we have started making contact, and finding out what the community is like, as well as what concerns and hopes the locals have for OSE. Hopefully these preliminary conversations, when expanded upon in the future, will yield long and fruitful partnerships. But it will take some work to get there.
We ran into several difficulties pursuing our end of this important work. Many of the local businesses are in fact not local, but parts of large corporations. They have a rigid bureaucracy that is difficult to navigate, and the people to whom we needs must speak were seldom available. Additionally, to a corporation, local issues are of little concern.
We also had a number of people think that we were fundraising for OSE, rather than looking for educational partners. Some of the local businesses are not quite the place we might prefer to have middle and high schoolers volunteer or intern, and some would be legally questionable, such as local pharmacies or medical clinics. And finally, there is just a great deal of ground to cover, and many many people to speak to. It will take some time to find a large contingent of interested community members.
As this project continues, we hope for the best. However, this is a long haul, were people need to just pound the pavement, and speak to as many local businesses as possible. Being organized about how you approach businesses, looking for ones that might meet a specific need, and keeping detailed notes would be very good ideas. Be polite, kind, and clear, as this is a community that has both much to gain and much to lose.
They, like all of us, surely want the students of OSE to succeed, but to ask them to risk their names and maybe even their businesses means we have to show them that these kids are worth the effort. A large database of local business, points of contact, whether they’ve been approached before and what their response was would be of huge benefit to this project. Additionally, looking into incentives beyond being good community partners, like tax credits for having interns, may be an interesting route, and appeal to more of the corporate interests rather than just the locals.
There is yet much to be done. While several members of this group will continue on partnering with Open School East, we have only made a start in making sure that these amazing, inspiring students reach their goals. We are determined to continue working to redistribute the power back to the kids and the community, and hope that we are joined by not only local businesses and community centres, but also by all of the school districts. Perhaps we can inspire a small revolution in how Oregon thinks about education, what it means to learn, and what it can look like to succeed. OSE has shown us that a dedicated group of people can make a huge difference for students, and the students have shown that they can make a huge difference for themselves, when given an opportunity to do so. It is our privilege, and responsibility, to make sure they get that opportunity.
Finally, we’d like to offer our sincerest thanks to Adam, who took time from his busy schedule to help us, even though he has already taken this course, to Zapoura, for her guidance and connections, to Matt Ross, principal of OSE, and all of the amazing teachers, staff, and volunteers that we have had a chance to work with. Of course, we’d also like to thank our classmates, for offering ideas, new perspectives, and challenging us every week. But most of all, we would like to thank the students of Open School East, for showing us what hard work can do, and inspiring us to do more than we thought we were capable of.