02-19-2017  8:54 am      •     

At age 20, Terry Sanborn thought his life's career had been laid out for him. Working for a fast food chain, the former youth offender, who had spent most of his high school days in the McLaren Youth Correction Facility, figured he'd move his way up to manager while starting a family. All that changed when he learned about the Portland Youth Builders.
Now a third-year construction trades apprentice, Sanborn says he wished he'd learned about the program earlier.
Sanborn and others hope a new multi-agency program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation might give Portland's most vulnerable youth an earlier shot at a promising future.
"They don't know where they could go (with their lives)," said Sanborn, speaking of disconnected youths in the Portland area.
There are 8,000 young people ages 16 to 24 in Portland who are not in school and unemployed. Graduation rates at some high schools in Portland-area schools hover at 50 percent.
Now leaders of the Gates Foundation-funded program "Connected by 25" are pooling the resources of more than 35 civic leaders, policy makers, community organizations and businesses to ensure that every young man and woman in Portland is connected to education and/or a career by the time he or she turns 25.
To achieve this goal, the program will use research from the University of Washington to identify those students in eighth and ninth grade that are at the highest risk of dropping out. The Gates Foundation has provided a $646,000 grant, along with $200,000 from the Meyer Memorial Trust to help fund the program through October.
The Connected by 25 study tracked every student in the Portland Public Schools class of 2004 and found that students who experience similar failings - failure to meet eighth grade standards, failing one or more core classes in ninth grade, etc. - are "highly accurate predictors" of students who will not finish high school.
"There are not many school districts who are able to take this on," said Nicole Maher, director of the Native American Youth & Family Center, at a press conference held May 17.
County Chair Ted Wheeler said that he's particularly concerned by the number of minority youth who are at a higher risk of dropping out and who are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system.
Zeke Smith, staff leader for Connected by 25, and director of community engagement for Portland Schools Foundation, said the program's leaders found that youth who have been out of school for a while learn about programs primarily through word of mouth.
"We haven't done a good job communicating about programs (such as Youth Builders)," he said. "As opposed to a catalogue … we need to create a space that's more interactive."
The coalition's partners envision a two-tiered approach to Connected by 25. Part of the program, Smith said, will create a Web site and information hub that gives real-time information about programs that help young adults advance their education or job skills.
Although a large number of resources for education and job training already exist in Portland, leaders of Connected by 25 say their program will help make them more visible to the community. Sarah Stephan, a program spokeswoman, said program leaders are gathering geographic information to help identify underserved areas of the city - which might explain the discrepancies among Portland's high schools.
During the 2005-06 school year Jefferson High had an 8 percent dropout rate, with 51 out of 647 students leaving school for good. Jefferson's numbers are double that of the district as a whole, and Black students in Portland are twice as likely as White students to dropout. Last year, Portland Public Schools recorded that 6.4 percent of African American students, 8.4 percent of Hispanics, 3.3 percent of Whites, 2.7 percent of Asians and 6.6 percent of Native Americans dropped out of school. 
Connected by 25 is an ongoing project - and has already taken nearly two years to get to this point. According to Tripp Somerville, director of policy and communications for the Portland Schools Foundation, the program is still in the very beginning stages of development and implementation.
This summer, Connected by 25's steering committee will recruit more organizations to take part while also collecting community input (visit www.connectedby25.org to fill out an online survey). Smith said business leaders are encouraged to share information about ongoing internships and job shadow or mentor opportunities. Public focus groups will eventually give input and, in the fall of 2007, the program's leaders will unveil a plan for helping at-risk eighth- and ninth-graders. Once a working model for underperforming eighth- and ninth-graders has been established, Stephan said further action plans for older students will be formulated.
"We want to learn about the students who are succeeding in spite of the system," said Leslie Rennie-Hill, district director of high schools.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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