Elevate Oregon’s Mentorship Program Lifts Struggling Students During Pandemic

Elevate Oregon’s Mentorship Program Lifts Struggling Students During Pandemic

Portland, OR. During the Covid-19 pandemic, students can’t gather around the table like they used to. But Elevate Oregon staff members are working with students remotely and continue to be available around the clock. This dedication is nothing new. Launched in 2010 and inspired by a similar “Colorado Uplift” program, Elevate Oregon works with students and their schools in order to build relationships with those struggling to succeed. Largely organized and lead by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) within the Portland community, the program is aimed at benefiting BIPOC youth. With its primary goal of reaching struggling youth through interpersonal relations, Elevate Oregon’s effect on the community is inspiring to many.

In just four years the mentorship program at Parkrose High School in NE Portland, has seen the graduation rate of students skyrocketed from 55% to 90%. To attain this increase, Elevate Oregon partners with the school and offer students an “in-house” elective classroom. Rather than attempting to replace the school curriculum, they seek to build off of the school’s foundation. Within this class, struggling students work one-on-one with qualified and passionate mentors to find out what they need to be successful during high school and beyond. Paul Morris, Deputy Director at Elevate Oregon, says that this approach “allows students to fail safely” and that “Elevate is in the business of offering second chances to these youth.”

The in-school approach allows students easier access to the help they need without having to attend after-school programs, something that many students already in a chaotic state often can’t swing. Further, students are offered an incentive of end-of-the-year trips/parties for maintaining a high GPA.

Now in 2021, 11 years since Elevate Oregon had started its first program at Parkrose High School, it is serving over 600 students annually and has expanded its mentorship program to include students as young as elementary level as well as students transitioning between grades or schools. Mentors could potentially work with students for 8-9 years, building lifelong relationships with youth living within a chaotic world, who could benefit the most from the stability being offered.

Elevate Oregon’s interpersonal-focus is uplifting the BIPOC youth community here in Portland through its goal of connecting and building one-on-one relationships. Program leaders say it’s useful for a struggling high school student to have someone who cares. A listening ear and an open heart can go a long way.

Elevate Oregon functions entirely off of their mentors and donations. You can donate to this inspiring program here.

About Elevate Oregon from their website:

Elevate Oregon is an empowering, efficient, year-round mentoring program centered on raising graduation rates and post-secondary enrollment, while also striving to create “generational firsts”, offering students the tools they need to become future leaders in our region.

Kairos PDX Keeps Kids on Track During Chaotic Times

Kairos PDX Keeps Kids on Track During Chaotic Times

Portland, OR. The KairosPDX educational nonprofit is individualizing its programming to serve kids at home. The program serves over 170 students in grades K-5. The focus of the nonprofit is working to transform education into a system that sees and nurtures the whole child. Through policy advocacy and direct service, the organization works to change a structure that has historically disempowered black and brown communities.

The nonprofit’s holistic approach has helped it weather the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were able to retain the same attendance levels that we had pre-pandemic and it was largely because we centered care and connection in everything that we did,” Ladd said. “Multiple times a week there were check-ins with families, and it was really just a space for families to come together and vent and ask questions and be in a safe space to experience what we were experiencing as a collective.” 

Kairos focuses on the whole child and all their needs: academic, social, emotional, cultural, and more.

Similar check-ins were available to kids individually. Kairos was able to provide nutritional support, computers that had been donated, and Internet access so that each child could stay healthy and focused on learning. 

Kairos prioritizes the “whole child,” in the classroom, including social, emotional, cultural, and identity-affirming aspects of wellbeing. The organization has done training with educators as well as people outside the educational system to work on how to better support whole kids. 

“We talk a lot about the humanization of children being at the center of education,” Ladd said. “Seeing the humanity in each child means seeing all that they bring and seeing that as an asset. Schools have a tendency to dehumanize children and their value.” 

Kids need this type of support more than ever amidst the rapid social changes occurring right now. 

“With both the racial justice and COVID pandemics, for many it’s like a trauma in the sense that it’s thrown people’s lives into chaos and everything that they knew is no longer,” Ladd said. “That is a traumatic event that will have an impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing.” 

Creative projects support academic engagement

The executive director said that this turbulent time has provided some opportunity for the community to come together around important issues. Kairos partnered with some other black-run organizations and faith-based communities to do a food distribution. The organization also partnered to offer free COVID testing for the surrounding community. 

“I found in this time, while there were challenges, our community did what it often does, which is come together to support one another,” Ladd said. “It wasn’t about who runs what organization, it was about how we support the children and families that we serve and this greater community and how we utilize each other’s strength to better support them.”   

This is also an opportune time in terms of racial justice. Kairos is working with other black-run organizations across all sectors to lobby members of government for policy changes. Ladd said that with the awareness raised by protests in Portland, policymakers are more open to legislation advocating for racial equity. 

Kids need support in academics now more than ever.

“Obviously our work is very much in the heart of racial justice and economic justice … the work is not new work for us, but I think the new global and statewide attention has definitely created more work,” Ladd said. “I think this is a period of time to continue to lift up the voices of leaders in the black community and other communities of color. ” 

These leaders are working hard to lobby as a collective, run their individual organizations, and care for their own homes and families. Ladd said her biggest challenge right now is that there is not enough time in the day. 

“It’s been a lot of extra work, a lot of late-night zooms,” she said. “There’s so many important things to do. And it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but still, you gotta keep running.” 

From KairosPDX: KairosPDX is an education nonprofit focused on transforming education through a model built on love and inclusion that elevates the voices of historically underserved children, their families, and their communities. ‘Kairos’ is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment), or a moment of indeterminate time in which something special happens. 

Oregon Symphony Offers New Kid’s Storytime Online

Oregon Symphony Offers New Kid’s Storytime Online

Portland, OR. “Kids are at home, parents are home-schooling, and we believed we could help,” explains Norman Hunyh, the Associate Conductor of the Oregon Symphony. It was because of the dearth of summer activities for kids that Symphony Storytime was born. In each episode of the new virtual series, a narrator reads a classic children’s book while members of the Oregon Symphony provide background music and sound effects. Assistant Principal Oboist Karen Wagner and host Amy Haroldson (seen in the photo above) tell the story of a “Top Cat” who doesn’t want to share his house and favorite things. (photo credit, Jacob Wade). 

A lesson on the featured background instrument makes these 15-minute episodes both entertaining and educational. On June 25,  the first episodes of Symphony Storytime were released. One was called “Mole Music,” and features the Cello. When Mole finally learns to play the violin, his music has an effect more magical than he will ever know. Written by David McPhail. Hosted by Amy Haroldson and featuring Marilyn de Oliveira, assistant principal cello.

Assistant Principal Oboist Karen Wagner and host Amy Haroldson perform for the Oregon Symphony’s new children’s program, Symphony Storytime (Jacob Wade).

Hunyh provided the artistic vision for Symphony Storytime by setting educational objectives and establishing the flow of each piece, among other responsibilities. Hunyh described this project as “new and exciting territory”. 

Assistant Principal Second Violinist Inés Voglar Belgique (Jacob Wade)

Assistant Principal Cellist Marilyn de Oliveira (Jacob Wade)

Each story was chosen because it meant something special to the musicians.  

“I really like [Mole Music] because it talks about how music changes Mole’s life, and it also shows us how music can change the world around us,” says cellist Marilyn de Oliveira in the first episode. 

Guitarist and vocalist Edna Vazquez and percussionist and host Sergio Carreno maintain social distance on set. Hunyh’s top priority was the health and safety of musicians and staff. (Jacob Wade)

Many participants in the project are native Spanish speakers, such as guitarist and vocalist Edna Vázquez who performs in the Symphony Storytime episode “Necesito un Abrazo”, which helped inspire the creation of unique Spanish episodes. The Spanish episodes are not translations of the English episodes, rather their own stories, intended to support and engage the Latinx community. 

Symphony Storytime’s first release included “Mole Music”, “Top Cat”, and “Goodnight Bob” in English featuring cello, oboe, and percussion, respectively. Necesito un Abrazo” and Ve, Perro. ¡Ve!” were released in Spanish, featuring guitar and violinMore episodes will be released on July 2 and July 9. 

From the Oregon Symphony:

The power of music to unite and inspire is boundless. Music lifts us higher on our most joyful days, and draws us together in challenging times. As soon as it’s safe, we’ll be back – performing for you in our concert hall and reaching out to children and adults across our region.