If you are following Rose Festival court news, you may know that Jefferson High School will not have a princess for the first time since 1930. We are one of several schools with decreased participation in the court selection. In our case, we withdrew our single candidate because of a disciplinary matter.
Rose Festival is a respected institution in Portland and as the Jefferson High School vice principal in charge of supporting our young women interested in the court this year, I would like to share some of the reasons why we did not end up with more candidates.
Jefferson has only about 100 young women in our junior and senior classes. Yet a dozen young women (more than one in 10 of our junior and senior girls) expressed interest in trying out for the court.
All were strong candidates and all but one has a 3.0 or better GPA. Yet, one by one, they began the analysis that all girls vying for this honor go through: weighing the many Rose Festival events and weeks of traveling the state with everything else that is on these high performing young people's plates.
In that group of a dozen potential princesses, several are in Jefferson's Health Sciences/Biotechnology program taking upper level math and science courses and participating in internships or job shadows with our health care partners. Nearly all of our 260 graduates from this 15-year-old program go straight to college and staying on track is essential.
Several of the young women also help organize our spring Carbon Footprint Fair, the largest green education event in our high schools. Last year, our student and faculty sustainability team won a grant and purchased solar roof panels that the team unveiled at the fair.
Others are members of our Jefferson Dancers, the elite dance team that will perform in Italy this month and who must commit to a rigorous practice and performance schedule through out the school year.
Others, on top of their classes at Jefferson, take courses at Portland Community College-Cascade Campus. They are helping shape our transformation into Jefferson High School – Middle College for Advanced Studies, which launches this fall. (And initial projections show strong interest. Between 140 to 170 freshmen will attend Jeff this fall, a 22 to 48 percent increase from our current freshman enrollment. We'll announce the firmed up number in early April when we complete the lottery.)
Ava Casey and Monterae Hill are among the group taking Jefferson and PCC classes. They were working on their extensive applications for the Gates Millennium Scholarship as well as college applications at the time Rose Festival applications were due. Ava and Monterae hope to follow in the footsteps of Carla Williams, Mercedes Whitecalf, Amin Tuffa and Grace Muange, Jefferson grads who earned this full-ride college and graduate school scholarship in the past six years.
Additional obligations for some of our girls include after school jobs or the care of younger siblings or an ill or disabled parent, also factors in deciding whether to compete.
When we chose to take our single candidate out of the running, Toni Hunter, our principal, and our leadership team thought hard about the implications of not having a Rose Festival representative.
Several of our outstanding alumni are active with this time-honored event and, over time, many Jefferson princesses have become Rose Festival queens. We thought about asking some of the girls to reconsider and jump in, but there really was not time. So we discussed our decision with festival leaders and agreed that they would meet with our students to get feedback on why interest in the court may be waning.
We regret that we will not have one of our stand-out young women recognized in the Rose Festival this year. We are also proud of the opportunities that our young women are pursuing and the obligations they are honoring instead.
Ricky Allen is a vice principal at Jefferson High School.