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Students set out to beautify campuses

Grants from school district fund projects ranging from native plants to new school flag

Portland students may have been off on spring break last week, but now they're getting back to the books - and for many, the community projects they've taken on to beautify their schools.

At Grant High School in Northeast Portland, the student executive council is using a $1,900 grant to organize a design competition for an updated version of the school flag, which will be restored. The project will culminate with a schoolwide cleanup day.

The Pauling Academy Service and Leadership Class at the Marshall Campus in Southeast is using a $400 grant to beautify the school's courtyard with native species plants and flowers and mark them with their scientific and common names.

Teachers plan to use the courtyard for lessons on native vegetation.

And at Wilson High School in Southwest, students will use a $2,000 award to plant 50 trees on campus in celebration of the school's 50th anniversary.

Wilson students also will build the neighborhood's first community garden at Mary Rieke Elementary School.

The funds for these projects and four others - a total of $10,000 - came from a new spinoff to Portland Public Schools' Project Community Care, an annual initiative that joins local organizations with the schools in August for various campus beautification projects.

But the latest spinoff provided a round of competitive minigrants of up to $2,000 directly to the high schools, for endeavors that will improve their physical grounds as well as build unity and boost school pride.

'We want to push it so there's an ongoing project throughout the year, instead of a one-day thing,' said April Sandoval, coordinator of Superintendent Vicki Phillips' Student Advisory Council, which distributes the grants.

'It's important the students are playing a part because the schools always need maintenance. There's always work to be done.'

Twelve schools submitted applications for the grants, Sandoval said, but only seven could be awarded.

Sandoval's group, more affectionately called Super SAC, is composed of one representative from each of the high schools. They meet from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. the second and fourth Monday of the month at district headquarters.

The group discusses issues that affect students, including this year's discussions of school ID badges, curriculum adoption and single-sex academies. It's also planning for a student summit this fall that will focus the district's enrollment and transfer policy.

The most visible member of Super SAC is the group's representative to the Portland School Board. This year's member, Cleveland High School senior Holly Vander Schaaf, will wrap up her term this summer.

The group will elect a new representative to the board April 30, and those who might be interested in joining Super SAC for the new school year may inquire now at their student government offices.

A separate but similar-intentioned student group, at the county level, currently is looking for new members. The 11-year-old Multnomah Youth Commission is seeking young people between ages 13 and 21 to serve on the commission, which helps shape government policy.

Coordinator Joshua Todd said 20 seats are available on the 42-person commission. Those interested must be able to commit about 15 hours a month to the volunteer position, which includes two meetings per month, held at Portland City Hall and in Gresham. Food and transportation are provided at the meetings, and some students have been able to arrange to receive school credit for their participation.

'It's definitely kind of a hands-on way to learn about government and civics, learn the process from the inside, working directly with elected officials,' Todd said, noting that the group includes a wide spectrum of students, including teen parents, homeless youths and others who aren't typically represented in leadership organizations.

So far, the committee has taken on subjects ranging from military recruitment and school lunches to teen pregnancy and homelessness.

It became partners with Mayor Tom Potter last year to create the nation's first youth Bill of Rights, with was adopted by the city and is set to be heard by the county board May 22.

For information on the county group, call Todd, 503-988-5839, or go to www.ourcommission.org/apply. Applications are due April 30.

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