Unique East Portland school offers skills, and hope, to disenfranchised youth

Get paid for going to school? Yes! Take a peek inside Portland YouthBuilders – a school that turns dropouts into productive citizens …

Portland YouthBuilders students Soreyia San and Kasey Jones encourage Cassy Keck and Shaun Shaffer to consider the computer program at this unique high school.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
“This school is amazing,” student Kasey Jones tells us shortly after we enter Portland YouthBuilders in Lents.

“This school is taught in a totally different way,” Jones continues. “For most kids who drop out, high school simply didn’t work for them. When students come here, and everything is set up so they will succeed if they try. Everybody is friendly and helps you so much, you want to come and learn to do new things. It is amazing.”

Jones, and his fellow student Soreyia San, are in Portland YouthBuilder’s Computer Technology program. “It’s great,” San tells us, “I like working with computers, and hope to have a computer career. With what I’ve learned, I think I can get good job that I like.”

School success for non-traditional students
“The most important thing for us is not ‘giving up hope’ on young people who have not succeeded at traditional high schools,” explains Sara Kirschenbaum, Admissions Coordinator for Portland Youthbuilders.

“We have a huge dropout rate across the city. Some of these young people do want to do positive things with their lives. With training, they are capable of getting good jobs, and helping the community. Many of our students, we believe, will become leaders in the community.”

One thing that sets this school apart from others, Kirschenbaum says, is that students earn $400 a month from the school. “In addition to structured classes and hands-on learning, they spend half their time involved in community projects, building low-income housing or computers and web sites.”

All students become AmeriCorps members, giving them an $1,800 scholarship if they successfully complete the program.

Construction and Computer Technology tracks

While checking out the school, potential students Tiffanie Lewis and Jasmine Miller take turns hammering nails into wood, giving them a hands-on way to consider if Portland Youthbuilders is right for them.

“We offer very small classes, caring teachers, and help getting a good job or starting college or an apprenticeship program,” Kirschenbaum continues. “Students can choose between learning building trades, or computer technology.”

The school is geared to older students — those between 17 and 24 years of age, the admissions officer tells us. “We attract a more mature group of students than you might find at a traditional high school. We treat all of our students as young adults.”

Students held to high standards
This school isn’t a “free ride”; much is required of students, Kirschenbaum assures us. “Our students are required to be drug-free, and are held to high performance and attendance standards. But, look at this great opportunity for a very low income young person, who doesn’t have a GED or diploma, is fluent in English, and is committed to taking positive steps in life!”

Interested? The school holds enrollment sessions every Thursday at 1:00 p.m. Call (503) 286-9350 extension 254, check them out at www.pybpdx.org, or come by their campus at 4816 SE 92nd Ave. (across from Lents Park).

“Check out the program,” encourages Jones. “Look, you’re getting paid to get a diploma. What other place can you get educated, learn good skills ‚Äì and get paid at the same time? Come take a look and see for yourself.”

¬©  2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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