A Future Worth Fighting For

Carl Talton, business leader and STEAM advocate, talking to an audience of 600 3 to PhD and Concordia University supporters at the Portland Art Museum in 2016.

Concordia University and partners create a more diverse and dynamic workforce for Oregon.

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 A hungry second-grader tackles a tricky math problem. A non- English-speaking patient struggles to describe complex symptoms to a care provider. A high school freshman wonders how to turn a knack for design into a career opportunity.

Oregon’s youngest, most diverse underserved and underrepresented community members often face special hurdles on a daily basis that aff ect their ability to pursue their highest dreams, contributing to poor health and education outcomes.

What if that second-grader wasn’t hungry? What if that patient’s care was in their native language? What if school was also a place where families could access other resources?

And what if you created a wrap-around system that supported the health and wellness – including physical and mental health – of underserved Oregonians as a pre-requisite for academic achievement? Could you disrupt this dismal cycle, and in the process, build a more dynamic workforce in which any student might become the teacher, any patient the caregiver?

The research points to “yes.” Closing the opportunity gap by overcoming common barriers to education is behind 3 to PhD®, an educational model being developed by Concordia University Portland, along with Portland Public Schools and its Faubion School, Kaiser Permanente, Trillium Family Services and Pacific Foods of Oregon.

The private, nonprofit university, Title I PK-8 public school, and partners, serve some of the city’s most at-risk students in Northeast Portland. Educational collaborators for over a decade, and, now, thanks to a capital improvement bond passed by Portland voters and millions raised by Concordia University, PPS and Concordia have co-built the nation’s first 3 to PhD community, opening Aug. 29, 2017.

Aside from obvious benefits of shared learning spaces — hands-on experience for CU students, additional support for Faubion students — the collaboration transforms Concordia’s students into living role models for students who might aspire to attend college themselves, perhaps become future teachers, says Concordia University’s College of Education Dean Sheryl Reinisch: “Faubion students can see, ‘Hey, they’re learning to be teachers. I want to be a teacher; I can do this too.’ It’s the culture of college.”

photo 2Faubion School students.

On campus, wrap-around supports support Faubion families from prenatal care and early childhood education, all the way to the pursuit of their highest dreams (PhD), whether that’s college, vocational, or other career and education opportunities. “Our goal with 3 to PhD is to close the opportunity gap,” says Gary Withers, CU Chief Strategic Relations Officer. “We really want to ensure that every child enrolled at Faubion School will have an experience that allows them to excel academically and also discover their own talents, interests and dreams.”

3 to PhD fully integrates college and career services, prenatal care, early childhood education, a food pantry and physical and mental health care will be offered on-site through community partners including Portland Public Schools, Trillium Family Services, Pacific Foods, and Kaiser Permanente.

The 3 to PhD model just makes sense, says Imelda Dacones, MD, CEO and President of Northwest Permanente, the medical group that serves Kaiser Permanente members: chronic illnesses, poverty and learning challenges are often experienced concurrently, and they should be addressed concurrently, too.

Tackling the social determinants of health — things like financial, housing and food security — beginning early, reduces the need for expensive, less effective interventions later, she adds: “Social determinants are the big difference between prevention versus treatment. By the time people are adults, it’s more challenging to undo lifestyle behaviors.”

phot 3Imelda Dacones, MD, of Northwest Permanente.

In addition to these supports, Faubion students will gain STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) skills through targeted curriculum and access to on-campus “maker spaces.”

Early exposure to the foundational skills of these high-demand fields is crucial, says Concordia University Board of Trustees member and STEAM supporter Carl Talton. During Talton’s decades of advocating for underserved students, he’s noticed an alarming trend: such opportunities still aren’t widely available to students of color — particularly in Northeast Portland.

“We’re seeing jobs being created around the community in which they can’t participate simply because they don’t have the skills,” he says. “Our kids are not getting the kind of education that allows them to penetrate the latest career paths. We have to change that.”

The same holds true for teaching careers: in 2015-2016, students of color represented 36.6 percent of Oregon’s public school student population, but only 9.2 percent of teachers were individuals of color, according to the State of Oregon’s 2016 Educator Equity Report.

What’s worse, adds Talton, gentrification is pushing many students of color out of their own communities completely. Exposing these students to formative learning experiences with real-world applications from preschool on would enable them to pursue careers (and adult lives) in their home communities, even as prices rise.

“To me, this is the anti-displacement strategy, the anti-gentrification strategy because it transforms the fundamental economics for communities of color,” he says.

Maintaining diversity in our neighborhoods and workforces achieves more than just a social good; over time, it actually improves a community’s health, notes Dacones: when a care provider shares a language or ethnicity with a patient, for example, that patient is more likely to follow a treatment plan and enjoy a better health outcome.

In this way, one person at a time, you begin to create a new kind of cycle in which health and opportunity are equitable and success is modeled by one generation in service of the next.

And that, figures Dacones, is a future worth fighting for: “We’re coming together and saying, ‘You know what? This is not an isolated problem. This is all of our problem. How do we solve it together?’” For more information please visit the Concordia University 3 to PhD website by clicking here.


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