Where We Live: Alternative schools reach different kids

Rosemary Anderson High School has an 85% graduation rate

Students at Rosemary Anderson High School in Portland, 2017 (Courtesy photo)
Students at Rosemary Anderson High School in Portland, 2017 (Courtesy photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — More than 50,000 Portland Public School students are back in classes now, but as the school year begins, we can’t forget the thousands of other kids who are in alternative schools.

They’re dealing with everything from poverty to family crisis and getting them back on track is an important part of where we live.

Before school started in East Multnomah County, students and staff from Rosemary Anderson High School gave away 2500 backpacks and school supplies.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of low-income housing and folks who are struggling with jobs,” said Joe McFerrin, the president of Rosemay Anderson School. “Doing things like this really helps families out.”

It’s not the only way Rosemary Anderson High School helps families. With 4 campuses across Portland metro, the private alternative school helps educate up to 700 kids who didn’t — or couldn’t — make it in public school.

“We don’t serve necessarily bad kids. We just serve kids who need something different,” McFerrin told KOIN 6 News.

Kids like Malik Cistrunk, who needed a more personal setting to find his potential.

“They’re going to do whatever they can to bring that out of you, and then some,” Cistrunk said. “I think it’s just love, time and energy.”

Rosemary Anderson High is one of about a dozen community-based alternative schools in Portland metro. They’re different from several others, like Metropolitan Learning Center, that are part of the Portland district.

PPS told KOIN 6 News there are 2906 students in PPS district-wide alternative schools. That is separate from the other kids in private alternative schools like Rosemary Anderson High.

The graduation rate at PPS is about 75%, but at Rosemary Anderson, it’s 85%.

But McFerrin said it’s not comparing apples to apples because his students take longer to get to the finish line. They start farther behind and many have serious life issues to deal with — and the school helps them.

“Without that love, care and energy I wasn’t able to learn,” Cistrunk said.

So for students who fall through the cracks in public schools, the alternatives can be their safety net.