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Op-Ed: Eastern Oregon schools offer wide-ranging opportunity for students

By Arnie Roblan and Representative Barbara Smith Warner

Co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Student Success

Published on May 8, 2018 1:56PM

In late April, the Oregon Legislature’s Joint Committee on Student Success continued its statewide tour with small group meetings and public hearings in Eastern Oregon.

We spent three days touring facilities and talking with students, parents, administrators, teachers, and community members in Baker City, Hermiston, Pendleton, Morrow County and Arlington.

We began each day hearing directly from students. One thing we learned from those meetings is that Eastern Oregon is home to some of the brightest, most energetic teenagers anywhere. During our three-day trip we saw how their schools are working hard to give them a fair shot at success.

We started our tour at Baker Technical Institute, a remarkable career and technical education facility. From their amazing culinary program, to health care training, to simulators that teach students how to operate heavy farming and construction equipment, BTI is helping build a workforce for the 21st century.

Just blocks away, we saw the Baker Web Academy and Early College. These virtual charter schools offer courses to students all across Oregon. Their programs allow students struggling in traditional classrooms to take a different approach to learning, earn their high school diploma and get a head start on college.

In Boardman, we saw how a focus on early childhood education can make a difference in graduation rates in the next decade. Here InterMountain Education Service District works with special needs children beginning just days after birth. Morrow County School District provides “wrap around” services to students and their families by providing a central contact point not just for education services, but for a whole array of social services that help keep students healthy and in school.

In Pendleton, we toured the Tribal Attendance Pilot Program at Washington Elementary. The program is bringing Native American culture into the school to boost student attendance. This effort builds relationships between the school and tribes to address historical trauma and improve the educational experience for the next generation of Native students and their families.

In Hermiston we saw high-end homes being built, in part, with student labor. Working with local contractors, students build one home a year. In the process they learn skills that help them transition into the workforce.

Arlington schools provided a glimpse of the opportunities and challenges the state’s smallest districts face. We met administrators and teachers who double as coaches and counselors and bus drivers. We saw a remarkably high-tech CTE program where educators train diesel mechanics and graphic designers; where students build off-road sand rail dune buggies and use a 3-D printer.

While the geography that surrounds them is different, Eastern Oregon students are much like their peers everywhere. They need and want to look up to their teachers and connect with adults who care about them. They want to have opportunities to participate in sports and music and art. They want to learn.

We want that for them, too. The Joint Committee on Student Success is invested in creating a plan that will give Eastern Oregon, and all schools in the state, the support they deserve to succeed and to provide that opportunity for every student.

Senator Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) and Representative Barbara Smith Warner (D-Portland) are co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Student Success.


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