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Regional Interests

Portland opens thousands of summer program slots to extend learning, prevent violence

Grant High School in Northeast Portland.
Grant High School in Northeast Portland.

For thousands of students in Oregon’s largest school district, summer will mean a chance to keep learning, but also a chance to stay engaged — or even get paid.

The district said some contracts are still being finalized, but “over 50″ different organizations will partner with Portland Public Schools to run summer programs for students.

With these programs, the district’s goal is focused around racial equity and social justice, providing support for students, especially BIPOC students and families, in preventing violence. In its April request for proposals, the district cited the “surge in gun violence in 2021.”

“What we know about violence and violence prevention, is that prevention works,” said PPS senior advisor for racial equity and social justice Dani Ledezma.

“Students who are engaged in positive, pro-social, meaningful activities that are tied to learning, where they can explore what they’re interested in, where they can be in a safe space with people who care about them, who reflect their lived experiences, that is a really powerful way to prevent violence, or engagement in risky behaviors.”

The district received 52 submitted proposals, and ended up funding 49 of them, according to a memo shared during a PPS board meeting last week. The millions of dollars in funding comes from the state.

The school board had to approve 16 of the highest-cost programs.

They include programs hosted by the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), Northwest Children’s Theater, Self Enhancement, Inc. and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland Metro.

There will be over 6800 slots available for PPS students, with more availability for the district’s planned “accelerated learning” program, which will consist of learning in the morning and activities in the afternoon, hosted by the local government-funded Schools Uniting Neighborhoods, or SUN school, coordinators.

At least two programs plan to offer virtual programming for students — a cooking camp from Feed the Mass that will be taught simultaneously in-person and over Zoom, and an entrepreneurship program from 7 Mindsets.

The district’s summer plans include limited employment opportunities for older students. Northwest Children’s Theater will offer 34 full-time jobs for teens to help lead camps or work behind the scenes. Horizons Counseling plans to hire 10 teen mentors.

At least one program, run by IRCO, plans to include families and parents in its programming, with in-home learning kits and “on-going supports and referrals to essential services,” like rent assistance and mental health services.

The district said information about the 33 lower-cost programs is “forthcoming.” In general, district officials said they include camps and childcare for young children, as well as sessions related to animation, debate and acrobatics.

According to the district, PPS employees will staff the academic classes, with other programs staffed by the partner organizations.

With the school year ending, most families haven’t had the opportunity to sign up for these programs, or get more information about them. Tuesday’s presentation was the first public mention of any specific summer offerings from PPS.

The district said a catalogue will be available soon to families, and the district is working with organizations to prepare the programs for students.

“We haven’t done this on this level, in a pandemic in a short amount of time,” said district public information officer Karen Werstein in an email to OPB.

Some program applications list late June dates for training or start dates, while others start in July.

Speaking to the school board, Ledezma said the plans represent a start to “get back to normal.”

“We’ve got this incredibly challenging year, unprecedented in terms of its reach and scope and all the challenges its presented,” Ledezma said.

“And we’ve got just this amazing opportunity to not only meet our student needs, but to really be a pillar in our community in terms of positive work that we can do together.”

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting