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Brim-Edwards Back In Business

Edwards, year 2016. Photo by Julia Brim-Edwards.

Nike executive Julia Brim-Edwards had the future for Portland Public Schools in mind when she ran for a position on the school board. Citizens seemed to agree-she was elected school board chair of zone six last May.

Edwards was a student in PPS and even sent her own 3 kids through the district. She served on the board for a brief period between 2001 and 2005 where she helped the board through many financial setbacks. She also worked a great deal on the $790 million bond that would modernize schools around Portland. She had always been an engaged parent as well as an advocate of better education in PPS, and many thought she was the right person to take the lead.

From the beginning of her term, Edwards was eager to start improving PPS right away.

“I was excited to get back to work,” exclaimed Edwards. “I’m passionate about public education and wanted to put my experience to work to support all our students leaving our schools ready for college, career, and life.” And work she did. Edwards soon collaborated with fellow board members to search for a qualified, dedicated superintendent that would ensure strong leadership. She also helped create a plan to make health and safety improvements all over the district. “With school underway and a new board and superintendent in office, we are now building a plan and supports to increase graduation rates, better prepare students for their futures, ensure all students have an enriched middle school experience, and find ways to support all elementary students having access to smaller classes, art, music, PE, and career technical education classes.” said Julia.

So far, says Edwards, the reaction from the community has been very positive. “Parents and community members have stepped up to partner with the new board and superintendent to get PPS back on track and to highlight and support the excellence that we know exists in our schools.” Edwards is excited to continue work hard and help PPS reach its potential.

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Courtyard: An Opportunity For The Ages

Courtyard at Mt Tabor’s front sign, facing Division Street. The elderly living facility is just a short five block walk from Franklin High School. Photo by Maya Horten.

Five blocks east of the Franklin High School campus lies another community. While it serves a different audience, Courtyard at Mt Tabor is similar to Franklin in that it strives to be a leading example in their field. Established over 20 years ago, Courtyard is an elderly living facility that has built a strong reputation for exceeding standards of care for our seniors. In both 2015 and 2016, it received the Caring Stars award: a nation-wide honor given to the most acclaimed living facilities.

Courtyard provides many levels of care including independent living and assisted living, as well as a memory care unit. The residents’ level of care depends on their physical and cognitive abilities, which also help determine where they reside. Despite serving people with a wide variance in need and support, Courtyard strives to enrich all lives with daily events and activities.

“Intergenerational contact is one of the best things for seniors. It brings in whole new life.”
–Rachel Strivers

One of the most engaging aspects of living at Courtyard is its Vibrant Life program. It offers upwards of 15-20 senior activities both on the campus and outside of it. Independent living resident, former editor of the Franklin yearbook, and proud graduate of Franklin High School class of 1941, BettyLu Anderson, shared that one of her favorite parts of living at Courtyard is the abundance of programs offered to the residents. These range from Bingo, music performances, and exercise classes to off-campus activities like dinners out, trips to the grocery store, and occasional day trips to the beach. Rachel Strivers, the Vibrant Life Director, describes her job as a way to “bring meaning and purpose to everyones’ lives [at Courtyard],” as well as to, “create positive milestones at this end-of-life stage.” She explains that at this point in many of the residents’ lives, they are experiencing tremendous loss. Whether this involves losing driving abilities, losing a spouse, or missing the ability to make safe decisions for themselves, loss and occasional loneliness are unfortunately prevalent issues in many retirement homes. Incorporating these exciting and diverse activities is incredibly beneficial to the experience the residents have as they continue to age, but something is still missing.

With an elementary school, high school, and retirement home within a few blocks of each other, there lies an extraordinary opportunity to bridge this generational gap. “Intergenerational contact is one of the best things for seniors,” stated Strivers. “It brings in whole new life.” When asked what she thought about hosting activities with students, assisted living resident Cheryl Young promptly responded, “I think it would be fun.” Young added how beneficial she believed spending time with older people would be for students, whether that be witnessing old age for the first time, gaining general knowledge, or learning about these peoples’ lives. It is important to recognize older generations simply as people who happen to be older, and begin to break down negative stigmas and social barriers associated with aging. As BettyLu made sure to articulate, “Don’t be afraid to talk to [older people] because they’ll talk back… usually… if they can hear.”

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Excitement Grows Over New Specialized Facilities

The deserted kitchen awaits Franklin chefs. The culinary arts room, located on the second level of the gym building, is one of the many new facilities at Franklin. Photo by Anna Marè

After two years of modernization, Franklin students and staff are back at the new campus. The modernization resulted in the renovation and addition of many specialized facilities. The dance studio, the culinary arts room, and the auditorium were among those that received significant upgrades as well as new equipment.

The new dance studio, which resides in the performing arts wing, has been completely upgraded. Sonia Warfel is in her third year of teaching dance at Franklin, but it is her first year teaching at the original location. She is thrilled about the features of the new studio; the room has big windows on two sides that allow for natural light as well as mirrors that cover two walls. “The studio also has a beautiful oak floor that is great for tap dancing,” said Warfel. She is most excited about having the extra space to accommodate her large class sizes. “I’m excited that we’re going to be able to set our space up to completely replicate the dimensions of our stage for Arts Alive,” said Warfel. “We’ll be able to practice and won’t have to re-space for different aspect ratios; it will be the same as on the stage, which helps a lot.” The building was intentionally designed for the dance studio, the music room, and the stage of the auditorium to have similar dimensions so that when those groups are getting ready for performances, they can space their shows easily.

The culinary arts room, more commonly referred to by students as “The Kitchen,” is another highlight of the new building. The room is located on the second floor of the gym building. Steve O’Neill is in his third year teaching the foods classes at Franklin. This is also the third year of the culinary arts program as it was switched up from the traditional home economics class to a career technical education class, which allows students to learn things that they can take out into the workplace to get a job. The kitchen is industry standard. “We want kids to get that ‘career feel,’” said O’Neill. “This is set up like any hotel or restaurant kitchen.”

The kitchen has eight stoves, four gas burners, three flat tops (a type of cooking range where the surface is a cross between a griddle and a grill), a grill, convection ovens, steam ovens, a walk-in refrigerator and freezer, catering racks, and an industrial dishwasher. Everything is set up almost exactly how a restaurant kitchen would be set up so students can understand what it’s like to work in that environment. “Personally, I love the flat tops and the convection ovens, which allow everything to be cooked evenly and at the same speed and time,” said O’Neill. The new facility allows students taking the class to gain valuable experience in a kitchen and take their knowledge into a culinary workplace.

The brand new auditorium is a facility that many students are excited for, and one that arguably has experienced the most change. The auditorium resides in the performing arts wing, opposite where it was previously located two years ago. Josh Forsythe, the acting teacher, is in his sixth year at Franklin. He has had the experience of teaching before and after the modernization. Although the new auditorium only houses 500 people compared to the old auditorium’s 1,500, the new style is more theatrical. “The difference of the space between each seat was somewhere close to maybe five or six inches which doesn’t give you a lot of space to look over the person in front of you,” said Forsythe. “The new theater has over a foot of space which gives a greater capacity, and it gets steeper as it goes up.” Because of the steeper incline of the auditorium, the audience gets to really see everything that’s happening on stage without being blocked by the person in front of them.

Another new feature of the auditorium is its state-of-the-art lighting system. The new theater has 36 front light positions compared to the old theater’s six, which accounts for a significant increase in the lighting capacity. “We now have a fair number of LED lights which allow for lower wattage capacity, so they’re more energy efficient and it allows us to do more with the light,” said Forsythe. The LED lights allow the instantaneous change of the color within the light itself rather than a traditional light where you have to change the gel color on the outside. As well as LED and front lights, the new theater also has a moving lights system. “The lighting grid itself is a state of the art system that is equal to what all professional theaters in Portland and even New York are using,” said Forsythe. “The kids that are going through the stagecraft program could leave here knowing the system and go directly to a professional theater and use the exact same equipment.”

The size of the stage has also increased. The new stage is 40 feet wide with offstage areas at 15 feet on either side. “A lot of modern plays call for pretty significant scene changes, and with an old stage that didn’t have any wing space for actors when they’re not on stage, especially big musicals, it was always a challenge,” said Forsythe. “We also have a garage door in the backstage area which allows us to move things into the hallway and back on.” One of the last new features of the auditorium is its full range fly system which allows something to be put onstage fully and then flown out completely. “The height of the proscenium is twenty feet at the top, the fly system doubles, and the ceiling of the theater is 40 feet high, so anything that we put onstage can be taken out completely, including all the curtains,” said Forsythe. “Everything can completely disappear.”

In addition to the main auditorium, Franklin is now home to a black box theater. The theater can transform into four different configurations. It allows for shows to be performed from one side or the other, and allows audiences to sit on one, two, three, or four sides of the theater with a capacity of 100 seats. Shows can be held in both theaters at the same time due to the connected lighting grid. “One of the things that’s true about contemporary theater is that most plays that are written now are being written for stages the size of the black box,” said Forsythe. “Having a studio theater is quite a luxury.”

“With a true lobby, concessions, and box office we have the ability now for an audience to experience a play in a true theatrical sense,” said Forsythe. “Our audience gets the full experience of a true theater.” The first performance in the new auditorium was Hamlet, on November 4. “There’s only one first show, and this is it,” stated Forsythe.

The new dance studio, culinary arts room, and auditorium are only a selection of the many incredible new features and facilities at Franklin. After two years, students and staff are ecstatic to call this new building home, and are thrilled to use these new additions for years to come.

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Classroom Sharing Poses Challenges

A science classroom at the Franklin build site awaits sink installation. Science classes are very equipment-driven, so those teachers will have less classroom movement than some teachers in other subjects. Photo by Anna Maré.

The Franklin community has been through a multitude of changes in the past few years. With the move to Marshall and the impending return to the original campus, students and teachers have experienced a lot of different learning environments. One big change that awaited teachers at the Marshall campus was an increase in classroom sharing among the staff. In the 2015-16 school year, some teachers were required to share classrooms while others weren’t. This year, the decision was made that all the staff would share, although some teachers would have to move around more than others.

There is a common misconception that teachers didn’t have to share classrooms at the old Franklin site. It was not very common, but some individual teachers did. Classroom sharing didn’t become school-wide until Franklin made the transition to the Marshall campus. It was a big adjustment for everyone, and many teachers had concerns about the effect it would have on their      teaching. As the school year went on, teachers began to adapt to the changes, but some still had difficulties sharing spaces.

In May, there was a PPS board meeting in which three Franklin teachers spoke regarding their experiences with classroom sharing. Rhonda Gray, a social studies teacher, noted that her transition from teaching in one classroom to two has damaged relationships with students because of the movement, and said that moving classrooms was not worth its disadvantages.

The teachers were not just at the meeting to explain the downsides to classroom sharing, but also to show that the plans to share rooms at the new Franklin building were not supported by teachers. The new modernized building is being built to facilitate classroom sharing for teachers and students. In addition to their classrooms, teachers will have conference rooms where they can meet with smaller groups of students. Math teacher Shauna Ewing said that these plans simply aren’t enough for her to teach to her full potential. “A room across the hall where I can meet with students is no substitute for a classroom,” she said in the May board meeting. Both Ewing and Mercedes Munoz, another Franklin teacher who spoke at the meeting, explained that the physical appeal and environment of their classrooms suffered due to sharing, and that a conference room would not fix that issue.

Despite the concerns from teachers about the negative impact of sharing classrooms, there really is no alternative, due to the consistent increase in students attending Franklin and the need to decrease class sizes. At this point, classroom sharing is built into the plans for the new building. Principal Juanita Valder said that despite all the concerns about sharing, it was inevitable. Classroom sharing is dependent on the amount of teachers and students at the school, and “Franklin has just exploded in growth, so we’re impacted a lot more,” she said. Valder explained that if we were in the old Franklin building with its previous layout, teachers would have to share due to our larger size. The goal with the new building is to make transitions as seamless as possible and take full advantage of the space we have.

Valder acknowledged that classroom sharing causes stress for some teachers, and she said she plans on sitting down with some of them when creating next year’s master schedule to get input on how to alleviate as many moving issues as possible. “We need to figure out the best way that’s going to meet what teachers need to do the best job they can in supporting and welcoming students into their rooms,” she said.

The new year marks just eight short months until Franklin students return to the new building. Adapting to the new environment may pose some challenges for the community, but there are hopes that the new, modernized building will bring more opportunities for students to make the most of their learning experience.

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Myths About Muslim Americans

The Muslim Community Center of Portland (MCCP) is a place of prayer, as well as other events in the Oregon Islamic Community. Photo Courtesy of MCCP.

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear,” respected author H.P Lovecraft once wrote, “and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Ignorance of the unknown, and the fear generated from it, is a powerful and often misguided force.

Such is the case with the perception of Islam, which has gone in the minds of many Americans from an equivalent to Judaism, Christianity, and other popular religions to a looming, threatening force that brings down towers and harms the general public, following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and the rise of such extremist groups as The Islamic State of Iraq and The Levant (better known as ISIL or ISIS) and Al Qaeda. This fear, combined with the lack of understanding of what certain elements of Islam are, give rise to what many refer to as “islamophobia,” a fear or prejudice towards Muslims or their religion.

This ignorance is based not on an innate lack of understanding or unwillingness to learn, research suggests, but rather the inaccessibility of the culture and religious practices of Muslims to modern Americans. In its Religious Landscape Study, The Pew Research Center concluded that in the U.S., less than 1% of American adults identified as Muslim. In comparison, Judaism, a relatively small religion, has a little over twice as big of a population in the U.S. at just under 2%. Both are dwarfed by Christianity, which is the faith of choice of approximately 71% of Americans, according to the same study. Because of the lack of Muslim people, the opportunities for the average American to interact with Islamic culture are severely limited.

Worldwide, the Muslim faith is the second biggest and fastest growing religion, and is expected to overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religion within the century. Surprisingly, the Middle East, a region associated with Muslim people, only makes up a fifth the worldwide Islamic population. Rather, 62% of all Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region.

The difference in ideals between the Muslims in these different regions is huge. For example, in Afghanistan, located in Southwest Asia, 99% of Muslims support the implementation of Sharia, a form of holy law, according to Pew Research Center. In comparison, in a central Asian country like Turkey, only 8% of the Muslim community believes in the same enforcement. Different Muslims, like many other groups of religious people, have diverse outlooks on life and theology based on upbringing, political alignment, and area of origin. The difference between Sunnis and Shiites, the two main and heavily divided sects of the Muslim faith, further complicate these issues, with each group having different ideals and religious practices, often creating conflict between the two groups and confusion for outsiders.

Extremist groups, such as ISIL, are examples of one extreme end of the Muslim faith. Terrorist actions and suicide bombings create fear throughout the worldwide community, leading to policies in government securing their countries by limiting immigration. During his campaign for president, the now elected Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” talking on issues such as support for Sharia, the concept of Jihad, and an observed hatred of non-Muslims throughout the American Islamic community. Oddly enough, one of the two primary sources featured in the official statement released on his website, the Pew Research Center, appears to contradict both this idea and the results of studies carried out by the Center for Security Policy, President-Elect Trump’s other primary source.

The Center for Security Policy reports that a quarter of American Muslims believe in violence against Americans, whereas the Pew Research Center only polled 1% support for frequent violence in the name of Islam, with an additional 5% acknowledging support for it in very rare and situational cases. Humanitarian groups, and the general public, would most likely criticize the ethics of ever believing in any form of violence towards the public in the name of religion. Regardless, the difference between a totaled 6% support versus a 25% rate of support is quite huge, even without the further polarizing differences in what was studied between the studies. Although neither source’s data has been proven to be inaccurate, it is notable that the Center for Security Policy openly leans towards certain political ideas and candidates through the banners featured on its website, whereas the Religious Landscape Study presents no obvious political agenda to its readers.

That same landscape study also showed a general trend of more integrated and liberal policies throughout Muslims in the United States. Polling found that American Muslims generally had more non-Islamic friends than their worldwide counterparts, and that over half of American Muslims believed that people of other religious beliefs can go to heaven, in comparison to an 18% median worldwide. This heavily suggests a strong cultural difference between Muslims in the U.S. and Muslims worldwide, and hopefully a shift in culture towards an accepting, open society within the community and outside of it.

Culture and the view of theology has consistently shifted throughout history, while also retaining some similar patterns and ideas. For all, education is necessary in understanding each other’s cultures and views. As Marie Curie, the discoverer of Radium and one of the most influential female physicists of all time once put it, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”