by: JEFF MCDONALD  - Sergio Mendez, 13, executes an acrobatic jump at Settlemier Park in Woodburn Friday. Mendez and others are involved in Boys & Girls Club youth summer activities, including skate competitions, organized trips and swims in the Molalla River. We just go on trips, just for fun, Mendez said. State officials toured Woodburn last week talking to community leaders and families about an important question: What is working to spur youth development and what can be done to improve it?

At issue is funding for youth programs and how to create a model that would allocate limited resources to the most successful and deserving programs around the state, said Brenda Brooks, deputy director for the Oregon Youth Development Council. From its meetings with various cities around the state, OYDC will deliver a report to the state legislature in January.

“We have to make sure funds we use are focused and have the most impact,” Brooks said.

“We are looking for evidence-based outcomes or promising practices that address areas of need.”

In the Woodburn School District, there is evidence of success that could still be improved with a more stable funding source, said Chuck Ransom, superintendent.

The district has had success with populations that other districts have struggled with, including Hispanic students who statistically underachieve in other parts of the state, according to Ransom.

“We don’t see that here,” Ransom said. “In Woodburn, they do very well.”

The district’s graduation rates are high among Hispanic students and dropout rates are low compared with the same population around the state, Ransom said.

Gang activity, including graffiti on campus and students wearing gang-related apparel, also has been limited in the school setting, said Ransom, who cited the district’s ability to create personalized educational experiences for every student, including home contact and support for families.

What appears to be working in Woodburn and could serve as a model for other parts of the state is the way Hispanic youth are integrated into the Woodburn School District through a personalized educational experience, Ransom said.

“We give each kid that personal attention,” Ransom said. “While statistically, we might think of the Hispanic population as a separate subgroup, we don’t see them that way. We think of them as our students.”

The district’s after-school programs also are well-structured, but funding is unstable, he said.

“We need ongoing support,” he said. “We need help with things that don’t go away when the grant money goes away.”

Additional areas of concern include post-secondary training opportunities that give students a bridge to the workplace, he said.

“It used to be that graduation was everything,” he said. “Now we see that is not enough.”

The opportunity to receive funding is critical in Woodburn, which is a highly distressed socio-economic community and lacks the means to fund the programs without outside help, said Anthony Veliz, a small business owner and former Woodburn city councilor who was recently appointed to serve on the Oregon Board of Education.

Veliz is hoping Woodburn can become one of the state’s high priority cities to receive a significant portion of the funding available.

“I don’t think Woodburn has the resources to do it alone,” Veliz said. “It’s going to take higher level public or private sector investment in programs or people to help us.”

Funding could be used to boost after-school programs, provide work force training, or give youth the opportunity to have internships, job shadowing and other employment opportunities, he said.

“We have tremendous needs here,” he said. “It’s going to take a multilevel approach involving families. With our socioeconomics and our demographics, we are pretty unique.”

Existing programs fall short of serving different segments of youth populations, said Stu Spence, recreation services manager.

Many organizations provide youth programming, including local churches, Boys & Girls Club and PCUN, but those programs are crowded and not serving all of the community’s needs, Spence said.

“There are so many gaps, especially for 10- to 15-year-olds,” Spence said. “They are not engaged yet. They are not driving, so they are saying what do we do? That is one of our biggest concerns.”

Additional funding could bolster the Boys & Girls Club, which runs a teen program for the city out of Settlemier Park Teen Center, he said.

Getting students the job training they need after high school could help those who otherwise would follow their parents into low-paying farm work, said Frances Alvarado, a Woodburn-based work force consultant for the Oregon Human Development Corp.

The OHDC, which provides employment and training for migrant and seasonal farmworkers, is based in Tigard, but has been active in Woodburn for 26 years, Alvarado said.

“There are not a lot of opportunities for employment for youth other than going back to fields with their parents,” she said. “The question is, how do we get jobs for some of these kids?”

The answer could start with more work force training programs at Chemeketa Community College in Woodburn, including automotive, technical, welding or even truck driving programs, Alvarado said.

“These kids want a better life,” she said. “They just graduated and they want an opportunity for short-term training — anything that gives them an opportunity rise up from working as a farmworker.”

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