For about a year now, after the last bell rings at Jefferson High School, Sheree Bull walks two blocks to Portland Community College to continue her studies.
Along with about 35 other Jefferson and Roosevelt students, Bull is part of the Middle College program that opens up a wide array of classes for students in two of Portland's lowest income high schools. Classes and books are free for students in the program that is a partnership between the college and Portland Public Schools.
"I wanted to see what college would be like," Bull told The Skanner from the Middle College office, where students can study and get advice from the program's managers. "I wanted to draw a conclusion for myself."
Quinton Blanton, a Jefferson senior, said he also feels better prepared for college. Blanton has been involved in Middle College for two years and has taken a variety of classes – African American history, business, and math courses. Much like Bull, Blanton says Middle College has improved his performance back at Jefferson -- his research papers are more thoroughly researched, new vocabulary words are culled from his history classes, study habits are improved. And because Middle College students are treated like regular college students, personal responsibility is key for survival.
Damon Hickok, the program's director, says 91 percent of students in the program are successful in their classes – which can be anything from Tai Kwon Do to engineering. Hickok focuses on getting students in prerequisites for future studies or anything that they identify as an area of interest. Of previous program participants from last year, 17 are going to major universities and 12 are going to PCC – two of which are in PCC's engineering program.
He says in many ways, the program works as a patch for the lack of advanced placement classes at Jefferson. And the upside to the program is that credits are transferable.
While the program focuses on low income, first-generation college students, any junior or senior is welcome to participate. He often walks the halls at the participating schools to recruit students – although the free program is currently at funding capacity. He's been able to attract students who previously thought college wasn't for them. PCC's pre-apprenticeship and trade programs and Skills Center help out students who aren't looking to go on to a 4-year university.
Algie Gatewood, Cascade Campus president, told The Skanner he started out with the idea for Middle College from "day one" of his tenure at PCC. With a possible 3 percent drop in state funding for community colleges coming, Gatewood doesn't want to see the program lose funding. Without the assistance from Portland Public Schools he said it wouldn't be possible to continue.
"In these economic times, there are a few programs exempt from budget cuts," he said. "I'm hoping that this is one of those programs."
Looking at the high success rate of its students – and the high rate of minority participation -- Gatewood wants to continue the program, adding more structure and attracting more students. He'd like to see every high school student end their senior year with a year's worth of college credit under their belt.
As for Blanton and Bull, they're both on track to attending four year universities in the fall. With all the credits under their belt, they both say they have a leg up on students who decided to take their junior and senior years easier.
"It expands your horizons," said Blanton.