In April of 2003, Open Meadow Alternative Schools partnered with Roosevelt High School to create the Step Up Program, with the goal of facilitating a successful transition for middle school students into Roosevelt High School. Achieving this goal has resulted in a decreased dropout rate at Roosevelt, and significant academic improvement, particularly among students of color.
Portland Public Schools makes the important transition from 8th to 9th grade a district wide priority, and continues to invest in Step Up services at Roosevelt, Madison, and Franklin high schools. In addition, Step Up now serves 40 freshmen each year at Gresham High School. Since 2003, Comcast Foundation has made a generous yearly investment in Step Up to help ensure its continued success. Step Up has also been funded by the Portland Children’s Levy (formerly the Children’s Investment Fund or CHIF), No Child Left Behind Supplemental Education Services, Portland Public Schools Title 1, GEAR UP, Oregon Department of Education, the Portland Schools Foundation, PGE Foundation, Fordham Street Foundation, Trail Blazers, The Collins Foundation, Piper Jaffray Foundation, and NW Natural.
Other community partners include Caldera, the University of Portland, Lewis & Clark, Marylhurst University, Portland Pearl Rotary, ECONW, Education Northwest, and Multnomah County SUN schools. In 2007, the Pew Partnership for Civic Change awarded Step Up the 2007 Civic Change Award.
Forty percent of the students dropping out of high school leave during their freshman year. Step Up targets students falling farthest behind in middle school and provides comprehensive, culturally specific services into their sophomore year at Roosevelt, Madison, Franklin and Gresham high schools. The cornerstone of the program is an intensive social/emotional summer camp with teaching staff and tutoring that takes place prior to the students’ freshman year.
- Pre-Freshman year leadership camp - In a one-week summer leadership academy, Step Up Advocates challenge youth to identify their aspirations and commit to working together towards those goals. Leadership and team-building activities reinforce students’ understanding of their capacity to achieve their dreams through education and hard work, all with the support of an advocate. These self-defined goals form the basis for their paricipation in Step Up throughout the following year. By the end of camp, students and their Advocates have formed close relationships based on mutual commitment to success in high school.
- Freshman & Sophomore year, extended academic day tutoring - Step Up Advocates partner with the school to offer after-school tutoring, conintued leadership development, and close social/emotional support in small “Advocate groups” of 10-15 Step Up youth.
- Daily individualized tutoring and homework assistance forms the core of afterschool activities. A carefully designed system of information sharing and accountability enables Advocates to track student assignments and course performance.
Classroom teachers and Step Up Advocates become close allies in supporting student success.
- Advocates lead youth in developing leadership and student success skills through group activities and individual counseling which focus on personal responsability, conflict resolution, healthy relationships, organisation and study skills.
- Advocates have significant phone and e-mail contact with their students outside of the after-school sessions, to provide emotional support for challenges that interfere with school success.
- Parent involvement activities - Throughout all components of the program, Step Up Advocates engage closely with parents to share student successes, strategize around challenges, and provide assistance in supporting their child’s success in school.
- Post-Freshman year summer school - Following the academic school year, at each school site, Step Up conducts a 1 or 2-week intensive summer school to help students recover any unearned core class credit from the previous school year. Working in conjunction with the high schools’ teachers, this method results in a high rate of success for Step Up students.