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Rallying for Options


At an emotional school board meeting, community members stand behind a beloved program

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: LISA K. ANDERSON - A group of about 75 marched from Gresham High to the school district office last week in support of the schools Options program, which is in jeopardy of being cut.

About 75 students, former students and teachers marched from Gresham High School to the Gresham-Barlow School District meeting Thursday, May 3, rallying for a beloved program that is at risk of being cut next year.

The group’s message about Options Alternative Program struck an emotional chord in the room, with many teary eyes and one former student receiving a standing ovation for his statement about the program.

Each of the speakers illustrated Options as much more than a class — a family and a lifeline for students who’ve struggled with homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, emotional distress, learning disabilities, unstable family life and other issues the past 26 years.

Along with the students, teachers and families, members of the Optimists of Gresham came to support Options.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: LISA K. ANDERSON - Students, teachers and parents filled the Gresham Barlow School Board meeting space Thursday, May 2, and told compelling stories of how Options was like a family for its students.

Carla Piluso, a school board member, told the Options supporters their words had not fallen on deaf ears. Facing a $5 million budget shortfall for next year, the district has to make tough decisions on where to cut.

She said the school board couldn’t make promises, but urged the group to attend the Monday, May 6, budget meeting.

When Jordan Cooper, a former student, asked who had been saved by the Options program, about one-third of the room stood up.

“No number can display the change that takes place in these kids lives once they step through the door,” Cooper said. “This is a program you can only dream of having that was built right here on your doorstep 26 years ago. It belongs to you and me and the entire community.”

Lolo Burns, a Gresham High senior and student leader, described how Options had changed her life. Today, she said, she is a bright student ready to take on anything.

“I came in thinking I’d never make it past freshmen year,” she said. “I was depressed, unhappy, skipped a lot and was failing almost every class... With Options I could be someone I never imagined. I went from Fs to As.”

Amanda Weber-Welch, a teacher with the Options program, presented to the school board more than 100 letters in support of the program from students, parents, staff and teachers.

Sarabeth Leitch, a teacher, coach adviser, advocate for students at Gresham High expressed distress over the potential cut.

“We are removing courses, which even in their names are designed to give young adults the leverage they need to be successful in an academic environment,” she said. “It goes beyond academic support. Even more so, it’s about trust between a teacher and teenager, which goes a long way when you’re talking about the physical, mental and emotional health of a young adult."

As the meeting concluded, Piluso referenced Roald Dahl’s “Matilda,” which she had recently seen on stage in New York, highlighting what she thought was important about education and the Options program.

“When I grow up, I will be tall enough to reach the branches,” she quoted, “that I need to reach to climb the trees you get to climb when you’re grown up.”

“Let’s be sure our kids are climbing those threes,” Piluso said. “Keep standing up for what you believe in and let’s make the change.”

As of Monday morning, no final decisions had been made about cutting the Options program.