Franklin thrives on ‘culture of smartness’

Jennifer Anderson, Portland Tribune, 11 April 2013

Christopher McBee is deciding between staying close to home or braving it in the cold Midwest.

The aspiring engineering student has been accepted to Oregon State University and Marquette University, in Milwaukee, Wisc., which gave him a nice scholarship offer — but all his friends are going to OSU.

So McBee, 18, a senior at Franklin High School, will spend the rest of the month doing what most of his college-bound peers are doing: more campus visits, more talks with friends and alumni and financial aid officers, and more soul-searching about one of the biggest decisions of their lives.

More than ever, Franklin students have been focusing on going to college — and positioning themselves for success — thanks to a program called Franklin Advanced Scholars. About 400 students school-wide, nearly a third of the school, are participating.

“It does create this culture around college,” says Franklin counselor Holly Vaughn-Edmonds. “It really has pivoted Franklin to this culture of smartness.”

This year, all 66 senior Advanced Scholars will graduate and go on to a 2- or 4-year college, up from 48 last year.

All have successfully completed four AP classes (or three AP and one dual credit) during their time at Franklin, in addition to meeting behavior, grade and attendance standards. They’ve met regularly with their assigned mentor to discuss topics such as resume building and the college application process.

Founded five years ago as Franklin was struggling to increase its rigor and attract more students, the program is the only one in Portland Public Schools and could soon be a model statewide.

Teachers and administrators created the program “at a time when our school was looked down upon,” says Susan Anglada Bartley, the Advanced Scholars coordinator and AP English teacher at Franklin.

Cleveland High, which Franklin is often compared to, has their International Baccalaureate program for high-achieving students. Franklin sought to create a college-prep environment of its own, and “now we have people asking to come to Franklin from Cleveland,” Bartley says.

All of the Advanced Scholars have gone on to college.

Franklin’s population grew more diverse and low-income after taking in Marshall students, and Bartley made it her job to ensure those students were reflected in their most rigorous courses.

Franklin offers 15 AP classes and seven dual-credit courses, in which students earn credit at Portland Community College. “At other schools, tracking happens,” Bartley says. “We don’t allow tracking. Any kid who gets a D in English, or gets sent to the assistant principal’s office — we say ‘Have you thought about Advanced Scholars?’ “

Seniors have until May 1 to make their final decisions on what college they’ll attend.

Seventeen teachers at Franklin, plus the principal and vice principals, serve as mentors for the Scholars. The teachers are awarded small stipends for their time through a Nike School Innovation Fund grant of $10,000 per year.

Nike has committed to funding the program with a $10,000 challenge grant next year, but future funding is uncertain.

Julia Brim-Edwards, founder of the Innovation Fund, hopes the contribution will help leverage greater community support.

“Quite simply, it works,” she says. It “nurtures and drives academic excellence.”

As education funding falls short statewide, state Rep. Chris Harker, D-Beaverton, sees it as part of the solution. He visited in the fall and says he was “more impressed than ever.”

The program “struck me right away as something which schools around the state might use to overcome some of the financial shortcomings,” he says.

Farther from home

Bartley’s AP English classroom at Franklin, room 160, is ground zero for the Advanced Scholars.

Now, as it is every spring, her walls are covered in a patchwork of orange and purple paper as a visual representation of her students’ college application process.

Orange papers with the names of colleges on them signify acceptances; purple papers hold the names of schools students are attending.

So far this spring, the 54 students in Bartley’s two AP English classes have garnered 166 acceptances.

Alejandro Flores is one of the few in-state students who were accepted to Reed College, which admits just 3 percent of its students from Oregon. He was also accepted to Seattle University, University of Portland and PSU, but it will all come down to financial aid.

“I check the mail three times a day,” says Flores, who wants to study medicine. While he’d be the first in his family to attend college, his parents have always expected him to go, he says.

The same is true for Paris Gresham, another Advanced Scholar who was also coincidentally admitted to Reed.

P. Gresham (C. Onstott, Portlnd Trib.)

She’ll soon visit the campus for a second time, not sure yet if it’s the right fit. “When I visited, I didn’t see many students like me,” she says, meaning black. Gresham also wants to be farther from home.

While some make the case that college is not for all students, Bartley says Franklin has made it part of their high school culture because in Oregon and nationally, a college education has become a direct indicator of earning potential.

“While life isn’t all about money, we need to prepare our children with the skills they need to be successful in real life,” Bartley says.

For many, she adds, college is “a doorway into a kind of financial stability that they have never experienced before; even at age 18, they realize that attending will impact future generations.”

It was that line of thinking that prompted senior Yussef Sheikhnur, 17, to change course after coming to Franklin two years ago from the shuttered Marshall Campus.

He was a different person then: “I knew I wasn’t going to go to college,” says Sheikhnur, who was born in the U.S. to parents who came from Somalia. “I was into the wrong things; I wasn’t doing what my parents told me to do.”

He was barely passing his classes, until one day Bartley and Vaughn-Edmonds convinced him to sign up for AP English class.

Along the way, he retook five or six of his classes to get back on track, through summer and night school. And he changed his mind about college, applying to Western Oregon University and PSU.

He thinks he’ll go with PSU, since they have an African Studies program he’d like to pursue. “I can be the first in my family to go to college,” Sheikhnur says. “I want to try to help my community; be a leader.”

Shatanya Banks, 17, and Rebecca Sanford, 18, both Advanced Scholars, will also be first-generation college students.

Banks has been driven since a young age, since her own mother had her at age 16 and struggled to raise her on her own. “I told myself I would succeed,” says Banks, who’s been working afterschool jobs since her sophomore year to help pay for college.

She wants to go to medical school to be an ob-gyn and is waiting until the final financial aid packages roll in until she decides between Concordia University, PSU, University of Portland and George Fox University.

Sanford, who wants to study mechanical engineering, has been accepted to 10 of the 15 colleges she’s applied to. “I want to go to Whitman (College), but it’s so much money,” she says. “I’m basically just trying to go to any school where I can stay under $10,000 per year. My dad is still paying off his loans.”

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