SOU pathway programs receive state grant

SOU “pathway” programs for Latino/a/x youth get boost from state grant

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University’s pathway programs that introduce local Latino/a/x students to the promise of higher education have received funding that will allow them to rebuild toward pre-pandemic numbers and achievement rates.

The highly successful Pirates to Raiders program in the Phoenix-Talent School District and the Bulldogs and Hornets to Raiders programs in the Medford School District will be boosted by a $250,000 grant for the current academic year. The grant is from the Oregon Department of Education’s Latino/a/x & Indigenous Student Success program, funded by the 2019 Oregon Legislature. Pending legislative approval and measurable progress toward its goals, funding for the SOU programs will be renewable at up to $200,000 per year.

“These programs and others across the state will receive significant needed support, thanks to the Legislature’s recognition that systemic inequities that Latino/a/x and Indigenous students have historically experienced must be addressed,” said Rachel Jones, SOU’s director of outreach and engagement. “Our communities will benefit from the success of their students, and their future involvement throughout the region.”

The SOU grant focuses primarily on the Pirates, Bulldogs and Hornets to Raiders programs – located at Talent Middle School and Phoenix High School, and at Medford’s McLoughlin and Hedrick middle schools and North and South Medford high schools – but will also support other ongoing SOU programs and events, including Academia Latina, Latino Family Day and the Cesar Chavez Leadership Conference.

The Pirates to Raiders program began in 2011, Bulldogs to Raiders in 2015 and Hornets to Raiders in 2017. All are intended to open doors to Hispanic students by forming partnerships between students, their families, their school districts and SOU to ensure that the students remain on track for high school graduation and college. Family members make sure their students attend school, manage their studies and participate in events related to the program. The university and school district offer mentoring, financial aid information, transportation to program events and opportunities to learn about SOU. The students take appropriate college preparatory courses, attend two program-related events each year and sign contracts, promising to stay on track to graduate on time.

The programs had grown to a total of about 375 students prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, achieving a high school graduation rate that was 43 percent higher than Oregon’s Latino/a/x student benchmark, double the statewide rate of higher education enrollment for Latino/a/x students and 3.8 times the rate of four-year college enrollment. The programs suffered through the pandemic, hurt by online-only instruction and staffing challenges in their host school districts.

The grant will enable SOU to hire Latino/a/x community members to serve as project coordinators supporting Latino/a/x students at the host schools. The programs have previously relied on staffing from site coordinators hired by the host schools, but those positions have been overtaxed with other duties and have seen high turnover. The new project coordinators from SOU will work with the schools’ site coordinators to provide more consistent services to students, increased engagement with parents and additional attention to culturally responsive curricula and teaching.

Students in the pathway programs will have increased access to mentoring, tutoring and workshops, and the programs will be better able to offer incentives – such as field trips and awards – for students who are on track academically or achieve key academic milestones.

Parents will receive regular updates on their students’ progress, have another trusted contact at their children’s school and receive support completing applications for extracurricular programs, financial aid and college admission. A new Parent Leadership Team made up of the parents of Latino/a/x students in four local school districts – Phoenix-Talent, Medford, Central Point and Eagle Point – will be formed to better incorporate community input into the pathway programs.

SOU will also partner with the Southern Oregon Education Service District’s Migrant Education Program to establish Latino Student Unions at schools that host the pathway programs; the SOU English Department will design a Cultural Empowerment Institute to help secondary school teachers focus on anti-racist and culturally responsive teaching; and the university will provide various offsets for opportunities such as dual-credit courses, college credit for foreign language skills, college application fees for those with demonstrated financial need and college move-in expenses for a limited number of students.