Oscar Gilson plans to take Jefferson High School’s freshman class to the University of Oregon in April. As part of the growth of Jefferson’s Middle College program, Gilson, the school’s Middle College director, wants the students to see what the school has to offer them.
This is only one part of Gilson’s effort to expand the Middle College program at Jefferson. The program, a partnership with Portland Public Schools, Portland Community College and national non-profit Self Enhancement Inc., allows high school students to receive free college credit through PCC. With the help of the program’s partners, he is working to make the Portland-area high school a school-wide middle college. The goal is that each student in the class of 2015 is will graduate with 12 college credits.
According to Gilson, Jefferson’s program is important because it encourages discussions on poverty and race relations, as approximately 80 to 85 percent of Jefferson’s students are low income, and it is the only high school in Oregon with a majority of black students.
“We have a huge gap between the white middle class (and minorities),” he said. “This is a way to close that gap and get them ready for college and give them hope.”
The program has received support from the UO. In June 2011, the university announced it was impressed with the middle college model, and it would offer full-tuition scholarships to low income Jefferson High School graduates with at least a year of college credit.
According to PCC Middle College Coordinator Damon Hickok, the UO has made a huge impact by being the first university to make such a scholarship offer.
“The kids are talking about it all the time,” he said. “(They say,) ‘Oh, I think I’m going to be a Duck.’ It’s good to see them looking ahead and knowing that’s there for them.”
According to Gilson, the middle college and the opportunities it offers has made positive changes for school. In 2010, Jefferson was in danger of being closed by the district due to low test scores and graduation rates, and enrollment dropped. However, he said the school’s numbers have increased due to the middle college program.
“Once the commitment was to keep Jefferson open and to become a middle college, our numbers started going up,” he said. “Our numbers continue to grow because students want that access.”
Hickok said the program has a 100 percent graduation rate, and he believes the program will continue to grow.
“We’re working on making this the best program,” he said. “You can already see positive changes in the community … I think it’s really exciting.”