SUN Shines On Portland Students
Portland, Oregon is a good place to see how contributions from the community can help low-income students.
For the past 10 years, Portland and the neighboring districts in Multnomah County have developed an extensive after-school program, which now reaches about two fifths of the schools, all in low-income neighborhoods.
It’s called Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN). At a typical school, a third to a half of students take part in after-school activities and courses that range from prepping for the state test to English as a Second Language to cooking for all ages. Some programs are held in the evening and on weekends, and many parents also participate.
The cost: several hundred dollars per student, which comes from a mix of county, city, state, and federal funds. Portland even passed a special “Children’s Levy” that amounts to $60 added to the property tax for most homes, and some of that money goes to SUN.
The tax dollars invested in SUN leverage about half a gain as much in cash and in-kind contributions from community organizations and businesses. The school districts provide space and transportation.
Portland Association of Teachers President Rebecca Levison, a middle school teacher, says teachers have been closely involved since the program started, and many teach after-school courses.
The county also runs health clinics in 13 of the 61 SUN schools, mostly high schools. Those are very well used, says Levison. “At my school, the school nurse came one day a week. If you were sick on another day, you’d go to the clinic,” she said. “In a low-income area, you may not have much access to health care except for the clinic.”
What difference do these programs make? The SUN website features a short video more powerful than dry numbers. It tells the story of a boy who came to middle school apparently headed towards dropping out. But he got involved with a SUN basketball program, gradually changed his life and is now a star student in high school. “No question about it,” he says, “I’m going to college.”