Learning experience

Learning experience

Pacific’s College of Education is taking a new approach to teacher training, embedding science and math professionals in the diverse, high-needs Woodburn School District.

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Many students in Pacific’s Woodburn MAT STEM program receive $15,000 Noyce scholarships to help pay for their one-year program (a few MAT students at Pacific’s Eugene and Forest Grove campuses also receive the scholarship). In turn, they commit to working in a “high-needs” school district after earning their teaching licenses.

But Carr says it’s not enough to just recruit new teachers to old training programs. The teacher preparation model needs innovations, too, to attract qualified people away from science and math jobs. Changes also must attract more women and minorities to the field, ensure long-term retention of teachers and, ultimately, provide the best math and science education possible to the next generations.

 

Woodburn is one of the fastest growing communities in Oregon, as well as the most diverse. The compact downtown area sits on the railroad that played prominently in the town’s foundation, though no trains stop here anymore. One ancient steam engine is on display in a downtown park, but most green space is devoted to soccer fields, booked every weekend by teams for toddlers and grandparents alike. The storefronts downtown advertise predominantly in Spanish, and local restaurants are almost exclusively taquarias.

The community holds to its agricultural roots—its founder, George Settlemeier, was a prominent nurseryman—with additional economic boosts from the local MacLaren Youth Correctional Center and the 1999 addition of the Woodburn Outlet Mall. Woodburn also could be considered a bedroom community for people who work in nearby Salem and Portland—each just 25 miles away on I-5. The city’s unemployment rate, though, rivals the state average, and poverty is high for a Portland-area community. 

The Woodburn School District easily qualifies as a “high-needs” learning community by federal standards. About 80 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, and 50-plus percent are classified as English-language learners. The “high-needs” designation is a two-sided coin for Woodburn, though. State test scores are admittedly low, and students do have more challenges to overcome on their academic journeys. But, Woodburn also has benefited from a combination of federal grants and visionary educational leaders.

Rule No. 1 for working in Woodburn is recognizing that language and culture differences aren’t a problem; they’re an asset. Woodburn is in its 15th year as a bilingual school district. That means students take classes in at least two different languages—not just language classes, but math, literature and science classes. By graduation, almost every student speaks two languages fluently, and many speak three languages. The original plan was for students to take classes in their native language and English, but parents saw more opportunity. Native Russian-speakers—a prominent group in the town that is home to a large group of Russian Orthodox Old Believers—often take their classes in Spanish and English, learning Russian at home, for example. 

Recently, Woodburn started administering high-school level Advanced Placement language exams to eighth-graders, who are scoring as well as their 11th- and 12th-grade counterparts nationwide and earning college credit before starting high school.

Woodburn commits to a professional learning community model and, in the past five years, broke its large high school into four small learning communities.

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Photo courtesy of Washington County Heritage Online

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