"Last chance" for some students...
by: Merry MacKinnon, Laurelwood United Methodist Church’s dwindling congregation means that the landmark church has lots of empty space, part of which is now leased to Mt. Scott Learning Centers High School.

College students normally don't paint walls just so high school students can sit in coral-colored classrooms. But the high school located on the corner of S.E. Holgate Boulevard at 61st Avenue is far from typical. For one thing, it's located inside an otherwise almost-empty church.

The Mt. Scott Learning Centers' high school, formerly known as 'Green Thumb', has been located in the Laurelwood United Methodist Church's east wing for one year, and it has a lease to rent the space--on the border of Woodstock neighborhood--for another four years. The landmark stucco church, built in 1904, and featuring a blend of Mission and Romanesque architecture, is owned by Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

'It's a lovely, lovely building,' says Tim Winslea, the pastor of Laurelwood Church. 'Part of what we like about that high school is that they've done a lot of renovation.'

In August, graduate students from the University of Portland donated their time and energy to spiff up the rooms for the new school year, when 75 former Portland Public school students will resume their education at the church, in classes administered by Mt. Scott Learning Centers.

'Sometimes, this is the last chance for some of our kids to receive an education,' says Darlene Myers, Mt. Scott Learning Centers' administrative assistant. 'For whatever reason, they don't adjust to the regular public school.'

The alternative school, under contract with the Portland Public School District, features elements the current enrollees wouldn't experience in standard public schools--such as smaller student teacher ratios, and classes divided by gender.

'Separating the classes by boys and girls works,' observes Myers. 'The students seem happier. They're able to focus more.'

Meanwhile, all of the dwindling congregation of 30 to 40 people who used to worship at Laurelwood Methodist Church are now in their 80s, says Winslea, explaining why the church's sanctuary is currently used for storage. 'The congregation is basically too elderly to attend services.'

Winslea hopes eventually to build a new congregation, and a renovated sanctuary. 'I'm trying to start a church out of the ashes of the existing church,' says Winslea, sounding a bit weary, since he currently ministers to three different congregations, including Sunnyside Methodist.

Until that time, the mission of at least a portion of the Holgate church's meandering halls, sunny rooms, and dining hall basement, is to save young people from future hardship by encouraging them to stay in school and earn their high school degree.

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