On the boundary between the cities of Gresham and Portland lies a dilapidated former nursery. The former Drake's 7 Dees on Stark Street was once a place to plant seeds and foster growth.
It may be a perfect setting for a new development -- the future home of Open School East.
Last Thursday, Gov. Kate Brown, State Rep. Carla Piluso, Open School East staff and students gathered to break ground on the site for the new school that aims to help students who are at risk of dropping out of school.
Brown told the crowd that it was important that every student graduates with a plan for the future. She said Open School shows how a school system can meet students where they are and craft a pathway to academic success.
“One size does not fit and should not fit all when it comes to setting the stage to realize student's full potential,” Brown said.
Part of the fundamental model behind Open School is to make the learning relational and relevant to the students’ goals. The school is committed to forging meaningful relationships with students and their families.
Andrew Mason, the executive director for Open School, said the teachers and staff at Open School know the aspirations of their students.
“They have dreams -- and I know that because we ask them that when they enroll,” Mason said. “Our programs work. We offer our students an education that fits, teachers who believe in them, and academic results no one else can.”
Open School East opened in 2014 with a class of 46 students. That number grew to 76 students this following year. The school intends to grow every year with the goal of serving 270 students by 2019.
Already students had advanced an average of 2.5 grade levels in math and two grade levels in reading over the last academic year.
Open School works in partnership with six Multnomah County school districts: Portland Public, David Douglas, Centennial, Reynolds, Parkrose and Gresham-Barlow. Together, they identify sixth-grade students who are struggling in school.
Students with poor test scores, low grades, high absence rates and a history of suspensions are those most at risk of dropping out. Seventy-five percent of Open School students live in poverty and 78 percent are students of color.
Open School also uses culturally inclusive learning as part of its curriculum and one-on-one interventions for students having hard time meeting classroom expectations.
The new Open School East building will be a 22,000-square-foot facility that will also host the Rockwood neighborhood Boys and Girls Club. The new school should open in August 2016.
Current Open School East students are using classrooms in Oliver Elementary School in southeast Portland.
“Everyone here knows the Oregon State motto, 'She flies with her own wings,’” Gov. Brown told the crowd. “I believe the programs like the open school will enable all of our students to soar,” she said.
After the ground breaking ceremony, Mason introduced Vinnie DeWayne who performed his song ‘Burnt Out.’ DeWayne was a former graduate of Open Meadow in partnership with Roosevelt High School , who now volunteers with Open School.
“I felt like it was only right,” he said in reference to giving back. “I do the music thing and I know that Open and Step Up helped me along the way the entire time to get where I am now,” DeWayne said. “I feel like it was only right and it’s all family here… I am still part of the family.”