PORTLAND – These are tough times for schools; budgets are tight and classrooms are full. But a successful and unique relationship between a Portland college and a grade school could become a model for education reform.
Concordia University and Faubion Elementary School have been neighbors for decades, but they only started acting neighborly five years ago. And the change has had a huge impact on students at both schools.
Keylah Boyer is the driving force for the change at Concordia University. She grew up one block from Faubion and the school was so bad that her parents sent her elsewhere.
“Faubion was definitely a different school years ago,” she remembers. Now she’s back in the neighborhood, as the Director of Undergraduate Studies at Concordia.
The elementary school is now light years from those bad old days---thanks to leaders with vision--and neighborly good sense.
Five years ago Lashawn Lee became the principal at Faubion. Her husband's job at Intel brought the couple to Portland from North Carolina.
As a child her family was poor. She was one of the first in her county to qualify under Title I for free school meals.
“We relied on the community schools for books, and breakfast and lunch in the summer time,” she says.
Right across the street from Faubion, a private Christian school more than 100 years old had waited for just such a neighbor.
Soon after Lashawn arrived, Keylah Boyer gathered with others from her school to see how they could help. The principal drew up a wish list that landed hundreds of Concordia students like in Faubion classrooms.
Lindsey Montgomery is one of those students. She and others are there learning to be teachers. The program gives them real world experience.
“It’s so fun,” she says. “That's where I get my greatest joy in the classroom: Seeing the kids have fun."
In the classroom we visited, three assistants from the university---plus the regular teacher--bring the student-teacher ratio to 6-to-1. In a school with few parent helpers, it's an invaluable addition.
And that's not all. During recess, Concordia student athletes like soccer player Ben Culpan come over to put the kids through structured drills.
“Good for them, good for us,” he says. “All around good experience."
Problems on the playground are down 80 percent. And enrollment is up by 70 kids, some new kids starting at the school and some parents deciding to bring their kids back.
From the Faubion library, the kids can see Concordia’s new library.
“We're just 102 steps away, from Concordia to Faubion,” Lashawn says.
A distance that for decades seemed insurmountable is now within easy reach.
“Now my 8th graders talk about college,” Lashawn says. “My pre-K students know college is in their future."
Thanks to a university that cared, a woman who never forgot her neighborhood school, and a principal who believed Southern hospitality could turn strangers into friends.
Teachers from both schools think their collaboration could—and should—be copied at other schools around the city.