North Portland’s Jefferson High School campus was quiet on a recent weekday afternoon. No chatter from students or teachers. No parents dropping off or picking up their kids from school. But just across North Killingsworth St., at Portland Community College’s Cascade campus, some Jefferson students were still going to and from class. Sixteen-year-old junior Roman Radecki was one of them.
“It’s been ‘no school November,’” Radecki, who was just getting out of a two-hour PCC Comms 100 class, said. “That’s what people always call November because there’s a lot of days off. But now we literally haven’t been in school.”
Radecki is one of about 100 Jefferson students enrolled in Middle College, Jefferson’s partnership with PCC that allows students to take classes at the community college and earn college credit. Since these classes are taught by PCC professors rather than members of the Portland Association of Teachers, this partnership also means Middle College students are some of the only PPS students to continue to go to class amid the strike.
“I’m just glad we do have classes,” said 17-year-old Eshia Eshoo, another Jefferson junior taking classes at PCC. “I would lose my mind if we didn’t.”
As of late Monday, the PAT and Portland Public Schools appeared to be very close to a contract settlement that would end the teacher strike. But some college-bound students taking advanced courses are worried about how they’ll catch up when class returns. And they’re concerned about how they’ll perform on college credit exams come spring. Meanwhile, students in Jefferson’s Middle College program may be getting ahead during the strike, or at the very least, not falling as far behind as their peers.
Both Eshoo and Radecki said they chose to go to Jefferson because of the school’s partnership with PCC. Earning college credit during high school can mean students graduate from college more quickly, which can potentially save them thousands of dollars in tuition.
“I want to be able to get a couple credits to transfer,” said Radecki. “And to have the experience. So when I do go to college, it’s not like I’m completely blind.”
The potential to earn college credit is why Jorge Bautista enrolled in two Advanced Placement classes at McDaniel High School this fall.
“My sister took AP classes and it helped her with college tuition and costs,” said Bautista, who is taking AP US History and AP English Language and Composition. “She told me it looks good on a resume transcript. So that’s what I decided to do.”
But these classes are more demanding than the usual high school course and passing them does not mean you automatically get college credit. Students must get a passing score on AP exams to earn the credit. Portland Public Schools suggests AP students study every night, an hour or more, to stay caught up. That’s not something Bautista has been doing during the strike.
Beyond this, Bautista is worried about catching up in all of his classes, not just AP. He doesn’t want bad grades to be on his official high school transcript. Bautista is feeling the pressure.
“Junior year — there’s a lot of testing,” said Bautista. “Your teachers are harder on you, you have to start looking at colleges, scholarships and how to pay for everything. It’s a lot.”
The district said its AP team will do everything it can to support students taking AP exams at the end of the year.
“When students return to the classroom, we will lean on the relationships and community that teachers have built with their students and allow them the autonomy to decide how best to move forward with the curriculum,” said the district in an emailed statement. The district didn’t make anyone available for an interview.
Lost instruction time is on the minds of both the PAT and the district.
Bautista and other students, like Lincoln High School senior Chloe Gilmore, said they need the structure that school provides to help keep them on track. That’s things like daily assignments, reading deadlines and regular tests.
Gilmore, 17, is pursuing an international baccalaureate diploma this year, a challenging diploma track that, like AP courses, requires spring testing. She said some of her teachers gave out instructional materials before the strike began but they haven’t been able to give guidance on specific assignments since the strike began Nov. 1.
“A lot of my teachers weren’t expecting the strike to last more than a couple of days and I wasn’t either,” said Gilmore. “So I haven’t been doing a lot of schoolwork in general. I am feeling slightly stressed out and overwhelmed about that.”
Gilmore said some seniors who were working on college applications before the strike feel like they’ve been left in limbo.
Despite the frustrations and worries of missing school, all of the students OPB spoke to for this story were supportive of striking teachers. Bautista and Gilmore have even been organizing student-led protests on behalf of the Portland Association of Teachers.
“I fully support the PAT demands,” said Gilmore, who believes PAT’s proposals will bring forth equitable wages for teachers and better learning environments for students. “Right now that’s the most important thing for me, even if the strike causes me to have a higher workload later on.”