The graduation rate of Oregon high school students is ranked as one of the lowest in the nation, according to a recent study by The Oregonian found that. With a graduation rate of 75 percent in 2016, our state take the dubious honor of being at third worst in the country.

However, this trend has started to turn around. Open School is a non-profit that aims to give students the tools to succeed in their high school experience. Established in 1971 as Open Meadow Learning Center, the organization has grown into a rigorous college-prep program that offers students an alternative to the traditional school experience.

At Open School students identified as at risk of dropping out are provided with the resources they need to graduate and get ahead. The organization creates an impact by focusing on academics, equity and advocacy. Open School offers four core programs that aim to reach kids early and get them on track for college and finding a career.

These programs include:

Open School East, a 7th-12th grade college-prep school in East Multnomah County that helps kids excel academically, graduate, and go to college. They do this through rigorous academics, teachers who believe in student success, and guidance through love and support. Students at Open School East advance an average of 2.5 grade levels in math and reading in their first year in the program.

Open School North helps kids develop a sense of purpose, connection and smarts in 6th-8th grade so they are set up to do their best in high school. They help students develop a positive self-image and respectful relationships with others by emphasizing personal responsibility, accountability and decision-making skills. Open School North also builds partnerships with parents and families to support their students.

Step Up helps 9th graders make a smooth transition to and through their high school career. Every year, Step Up keeps 300 kids in school and thriving academically at three Portland Public high schools: Roosevelt, Madison, and Franklin. Students are personally supported by a Step Up Advocate all year through comprehensive tutoring, strength-based advocacy, emotional support, character building workshops, and family engagement activities.

Open School also has a Equity Certificate Program for School Leaders. This is a challenging, personal journey for educators who are committed to creating equitable and inclusive school environments, especially for students and families of color. They aim to create a learning community where teachers, counselors, and administrators deepen their resolve, consciousness, and skills to lead collectively for equity in and out of the classroom.

As of 2015-16, 91 percent of all Step Up students are on track to graduate. This is the highest success rate at Roosevelt, Franklin, and Madison high schools in ten years. Open School East currently serves 135 middle and high school students and will grow to serve 270 students by Fall 2019.

Open School North has four artists in residence that help keep classes relevant and engaging. Their middle school students collaborated with internationally renowned artist INSA to create a GIF-ITI mural, learned the neon fabrication process with Perry Pfister, painted a spirit animal mural with Baba Wague Diakite, and wrote and recorded a song called “Believe” with musician BiBi McGill.

There are also 5 graduate students from the University of Portland’s School of Education completing a two-year teaching residency at Open School East. One of these students is a former Step Up student who returned to teach math in the community. Open School also hosts an annual summer camp and trivia competition. Last year’s trivia competition raised $259,000 for Open School programs.

If you’d like to know more about Open School and their programs you can contact them here.

This week at Portland Radio Project we featured Open School as part of our award-winning Community Voices series. You can listen below to interviews with key members of the organization:

Jessie Eller-Isaacs, Culturally Responsive Teacher Coach

Gloria Ngezaho, Associate Director

Andrew Mason, Executive Director

Jean Fleming, Open School Board Member