The Twilight Evening School Program has expanded for more of the North Clackamas School District's students to obtain a high school diploma.
During the 2015-16 school year, two students finished the requirements for high school completion through the program and obtained their diplomas. While the hours were reduced for the 2016-17 school year, the success of the program grew: 17 of the students attending the program graduated from high school this summer.
"With such small numbers from the previous year, it's not surprising that the program was cut down to five hours a week this year," said Martin Winch, the program's current coordinator. "But when hours are cut, it's difficult to carry on. We had to consider the option of closing the program."
Instead, the small team took the other route and turned economy into success.
The success of this year was the result of many key components. Winch reports that most of these components came from staff members — both current staff members and ones from the past. While he wasn't involved with the program last year, Winch had helped run the program the previous two years.
One year Winch worked with Lisa Richmond, a special-education specialist. "She taught me so much about the needs of this population," Winch said.
The next year, Winch worked with another teacher, Tory Waggoner, and together they developed a plan to turn struggles into successes. "These two teachers weren't just an integral part of the Twilight program in the past," Winch said. "Their influences are an integral part of this year's success."
The year's team took the lessons from the past and applied them to the present.
Team members also visited other programs, such as the Miller Education Center in Hillsboro, and Winch worked at NCSD's highly successful Summer Program.
"In that program, if students are tardy or absent twice, they are dropped," Winch said. "And they don't get their money back. If they don't finish the work, they are out of luck."
With these strict guidelines, students were gaining credits. This year, the Twilight team integrated these lessons into the Twilight program.
Twilight's success this year was the result of several policies: high expectations, strict deadlines and staff support.
"It was challenging to apply the rushed rigor of the summer program to a yearlong program," Winch said. "It's one thing for students to commit completely to their studies for a few weeks in the summer. It's another thing to hold that commitment for an entire year."
But along with the high expectations, the dedicated staff provided the needed support. The staff took time from their busy schedules at New Urban High School (where the evening program is housed) to assist the students at Twilight. Principal Noah Hurd oversaw the program, and counselor Annarie Wergeland welcomed students and guided them toward graduation. "Annarie and Noah worked closely with other schools," Winch said. "Counselors and advisers at the other high schools — Rex Putnam, Clackamas, Milwaukie and P.A.C.E. — helped guide students toward our program."
Then the Twilight team guided the students to graduation.
In the classroom, the small team included Debra Miller (teacher's aide) and Craig Combs (special education). The staff were only assigned a few hours in Twilight each week, but their dedication was an integral part of the program's success.
"In fact, every staff member at New Urban High School helped in some way," Winch said, "even if that wasn't part of their job description. They just want to help young people find success."
These students work full time to support themselves and family members. Some are homeless. Others struggle with mental illness or physical injuries. One student was in a serious motorcycle accident, but with the bedside assistance of Craig Combs, the student finished several online classes.
"Now that I think about it," Winch said, "I almost feel badly about pushing both the staff and the students so hard."
But the hard work paid off: The small group of students completed 137 high school classes during the 2016-17 school year.
"Oregon may have low graduation rates, but they're not going to increase these rates without alternative programs such as Twilight," said graduate Erika Quintanilla. "Everyone deserves the chance to finish high school. Twilight provides that. With programs such as Twilight we can increase North Clackamas School District's graduation rates. If we can increase these rates, then other districts can use our example and increase Oregon's graduation rates."
In the future, Winch hopes to see the program grow. He encourages interested students to review the website (newurbantwilight.wordpress.com) and contact counselor Annarie Wergeland (503-353-3305).
"If you need many credits, this is not the right program," Winch said. "But if you struggle with personal issues or a work schedule that prevents you from attending high school during the day, and you only need a few credits to graduate, Twilight might be the place for you."
Twilight 2017 grads: