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Cascade, Pacific academies forge fresh paths for challenged students

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Mariah Williamsom laughs while sharing a story during a class exercise about overcoming obstacles in life at the Cascade Academy in Beaverton.After he fell behind in credits at the International School of Beaverton, Tiernan Ley wasn’t sure if the suggestion that he give Cascade Academy a try would lead to his cup of tea — academically or socially.

The senior, who switched to Cascade two years ago, admits his apprehension proved misplaced.

“I was reluctant at first,” Ley says. “I took a chance. Now I find I have more freedom and am still getting what I need from school.”

Realizing his strengths seem to coincide with his interest in engineering and chemistry, Ley envisions his post-graduation plans including two years at Portland Community College before transferring to Oregon State University.

“I’m kind of a shy person, so I like it here,” he says. “During my second semester I started coming out of my shell and made friends more easily. I like the attentiveness of teachers. It’s a lot more one on one.”

The experience of each individual Cascade student, of course, varies greatly, but Ley’s road toward academic and social success, exemplifies how the program — part of the Northwest Regional Education Service District — can create a positive difference in behaviorally or academically challenged students’ lives.

“I think we’re giving them back an ace (card) or two,” says Principal Richard Goldner, who supervises Cascade along with Pacific Academy, its partner school. “Students like the idea of having a stable school environment, and a school they can depend on. Most kids love it here.”

Located in an unassuming, one-story office park on Southwest 141st Avenue, Cascade serves students in grades seven through 12 with serious conduct, behavioral and emotional needs. Teams from seven area school districts, including Beaverton and Hillsboro, refer students who could benefit from a small, nurturing, highly structured academic environment along with behavioral and mental health support.by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sydney Parkin talks to her fellow students during a morning meeting at the Cascade Academy where students and faculty members give updates about themselves and say what they're most thankful for.

Scaled-down learning

The school, which boasts a 1:4 staff-to-student ratio, bases its curriculum, instruction and assessment to Oregon State Standards, with students receiving nearly 23 hours per week of instruction and an average of four hours of mental health services each week.

Sharing space and administration with Cascade, Pacific Academy is an educational therapeutic program for students in grades six through 12. A team comprising teachers, a clinical psychologist and a psychiatric nurse practitioner works together to serve each student’s social, emotional and behavioral needs.

While the schools are equipped to steer the stereotypical “troubled” or “incorrigible” kid back on course, many students just need a break — from the tension and anxiety in unstable homes and the traditional high school setting — to find their true direction.

“Sometimes they’re just overwhelmed with the large environment of high school,” says Elizabeth Frank, now in her sixth year as a special education teacher at Cascade. “This is a more intimate environment. Some of their life situations are extremely stressful — their parents have health issues, some deal with poverty.

“I don’t think of our students as being any different than any others,” she adds. “That’s the magic of this program. Whether they’re here because they weren’t coming to school or were just too anxious, when they start here, they feel so supported.”

Mckenzie Watkins, the school’s transitions coordinator, helps students form and fulfill individualized education plans for each student.

“When they’re 16, we take input from students on what we will work on together and how we’re going to achieve that goal,” she says. “Some students go back to their neighborhood schools. Some really like the structure here. It just depends on what they want to do with their education.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Shariar Ahmed, a muslim and teacher at the Bilal Masjid Mosque, talks to students at the Cascade Academy in Beaverton about Islam and the importance of helping and loving others.

Broadening horizons

Lisa Bates, a clinical social worker for the Northwest Regional Education Service District, works to keep Cascade and Pacific students engaged beyond traditional curriculum through problem-solving workshops and recreational activities such as dragon boating.

This semester, she’s had students training with the Beaverton Community Emergency Response Team, a volunteer group that supports first responders in the wake of local emergencies and disasters.

“It’s a good way to empower students and give them skills to take care of their families or others if there’s a tragedy in the community,” Bates says. “We get a lot of kids who are struggling. To give these students opportunities to learn life skills may change their lives forever.”

Goldner describes the extracurricular activities as a “back door way of getting to kids by highlighting the things they see as relevant,” he says. “We try to spice their lives up with these things and try to create lifelong learning experiences.”

Ley, who credits Cascade with getting him back on track after falling a grade behind, is confident he’ll be prepared for college by the time he completes his final semester in spring 2014.

“Everyone says how much they like it, so I’m looking forward to it,” he says, noting he already knows how he’ll handle the independent-study nature of higher education. “I like starting work and finishing work, without anything in between.

“I like a routine.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Cascade Academy special education teacher Elizabeth Frank asked Shariar Ahmed to talk with her students.

Visitor engages students in multicultural discussion

Classroom work at Cascade and Pacific academies is enhanced with interactive field trips and guest speakers such as Shariar Ahmed, a leader of Beaverton’s Bilal Masjid Mosque representing the muslim faith. At teacher Elizabeth Franks’ invitation, Ahmed, an engineer at Intel, visited Cascade in early November to casually discuss his faith and life experiences with students in two classrooms.

“To me it was all positive,” he says of the interactions, which came on the heels of students studying the story of German Holocaust victim Anne Frank.

“I was surprised at some of their responses. They talked to me about Anne Frank. They said

I didn’t talk down to them.

“People need to see this (kind of dialog) more often,” he adds. “It helps put life in perspective.”

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