Maria Alioth, Alumna | Open Meadow High School | Step Up
"I was at Step Up 2009-2010 (my sophomore year) and then Open Meadow HS from 2010-2012 (when I graduated). Today, I am married and live in Vancouver. Right now, I’m a homemaker.
When I came to Step Up I was struggling to find my own footing. Struggling in public high school, skipping classes, just completely unfocused. I had initially been invited to join Step Up because I was struggling in all of my classes. Every single one.
After I joined SU, I had advocates there to assist me. But I still was struggling to show up to classes - resulting in me falling behind even further. After many suspensions for not attending classes (how ironic) I finally made the decision with my SU advocate to switch schools. I began attending Open Meadow to get back on track to graduate. The setting, I felt, would be a better fit. The smaller environment and personal relationships with teachers made the difference.
In the simplest terms, I gained an education. But even more so, I gained my ongoing relationship with my mentor - Kent Smith. Before I even was in SU at Marshall high, I was able to come to Kent for anything. He didn’t care that I wasn’t in the program - he helped anyway. It only took one person to show that they cared and recognized “my worth” for me to try to refocus on my goal of graduation.
Without the first push from Open, I truly believe my life would be so incredibly different. Open shaped the way I view other people, even to this day. People hear “alternative school” and automatically assume bad kids — which we know isn’t the case. I had the opportunity to meet lots of people from different backgrounds and some even similar to mine. My big take away: never judge a book by its cover."
Dion Jordan, Former Staff | Career Services | Open Meadow High School
"I was at Open from 2004 to 2015. I worked with Open Meadow Career Services, counseling young adults about careers and post-secondary opportunities. I also worked with Open’s Equity Team as a co-Chair.
When I came to Open, I was in the midst of a professional speaking career, writing a motivational book. I came to Open (Meadow) to find an audience to empower and pilot my messages before taking them on tour. My plan was just to stay 2 years. I ended up staying 10!
I wanted to join the Open community because of the students, the love, and the support of the advocates. It was also Open’s commitment to equity and diversity. One of the most impactful positions I held was with the organization’s Equity Team. I gained clarity of my passion for Equity and Inclusion work. I also gained realtionships with both students and staff that I still cherish.
Today, I am the Director of the office of Equity and Multicultural Services for the state of Oregon. I help Oregon DHS become more equitable, accessible, and racially just. My experience as co-chair of the Equity Team at Open Meadow has greatly influenced how I have formed and facilitated equity teams across the state today. "
Michael Navarro, Former Staff | All Programs
"I started at Open in 1995. I worked at Open Meadow HS (teacher/ advocate), was part of the opening team at the Open Meadow MS (teacher/advocate), worked CRUE over the summers (teacher/ advocate). I was Step Up Coordinator (Cesar Chavez (Portsmouth) and RHS) when the program was in its infancy. Later, I was the Open School North (principal). Finally, I was at Open School East (teacher/ advocate and interim principal 2021)
I was in my mid 20’s and just starting my teaching career in Portland when I joined Open. I had a masters but no certification, so alt ed was my main option. After my interview I was lucky enough to have Andrew Mason propose a place for me at CRUE to E.D. Carole Smith - which has just opened a half-time anatomy position. I took the job and at the end of the year I was lucky again when an OMHS English teacher’s wife got a job in Salem, and I took over that role. It was meant to be I guess.
I loved how, at Open, building relationship and personal development were foundational in our practice. There are schools that focus on building strong relationship with kids and schools that have a culture/ system of personal development but not a lot of programs that hold both as essential. I am not the educator I am today without Open - period, point blank (as a former student used to say!) The students and staff at Open have given me so many gifts over the years. The students at Open have always deserved and expected the highest level of service which has pushed me to be the best educator possible. Open's programs have always encouraged innovation. It was difficult to create a lot of curricula/systems/policies on our own, but it also taught me a lot. I really have had professional development opportunities I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.
I feel like Open has been a trailblazer for DEI work in Portland for a long time. We were one of the “Beacon Schools” when PPS started their district wide equity initiatives, which were actually started by Open Meadow’s Carole Smith when she became PPS superintendent. Not only has my Open DEI work put me in a great place professionally in Portland but it has made an indelible mark on my practice. The work has clearly improved how and why I teach, as well as given me confidence as a BIPOC educator to speak my truth and advocate for students wherever I’m at."
Claudia Pineda, Former Staff | Step Up
“I was with Step Up from March 2013 to November 2015. I was a student success coordinator. At that time, I was in graduate school (MSW). Today, I am the Program Director for North and South America at Partners for Youth Empowerment.
I came to the Open community because of their explicit and unwavering commitment to race equity. In my interview I was impressed by their directness about giving and receiving feedback (gave me cues about the mature and healthy environment I was stepping into).
My time at Open gave me practical applications of what I sought in grad school but didn’t get; profound personal and professional transformation; skill sets that I have used to become a government executive and now a director at an Open/Step Up partnering organization (Partners for Youth Empowerment), an international organization that trains youth workers.
Open added to my life 1000%. I wouldn’t be at the level of depth in my race equity analysis and application, healing and health in my personal relationships, and advancement in my professional career if it hadn’t been for what I gained there. The most invaluable asset, that [if I didn’t have it] wouldn’t allow all the other things to take place, is that I gained a community of professional peers who are my friends. It wouldn’t be possible for me to accomplish all the other things without this community.
In undergrad I majored in Latin American Studies and Ethnic Studies. So I came to Open with a foundational, theoretical understanding of DEI work. But at Open I learned contemporary, real time analysis with what was going on in the world and community in real time. This has equipped me to understand, maintain resiliency, and impact my community through the racial justice upheavals since. And I learned more clearly about how I had internalized everything, and how it came out in my personal life. Few people have all these components. That has led me to be able to be sought out as a professional and quasi “expert”, for having such a unique/hard to find grasp of the issues. Many orgs/people have one or a couple components but not such a wholistic understanding. I got that at Open.”
Amy Sparkes, Alumna | Open Meadow High School | Open School North
“I started at OM middle school I believe fall of 1999. I then went to the high School fall of 2001. My senior year I did a transition program and ended up being with kids from the CRUE program. That was fun!
I came to Open Meadow because my old school had shut down. I went to a lot of different schools to see which one would be the best fit. Open Meadow was the best fit for me and my needs. I made friends at Open Meadow who treated me nicely. I didn't get bullied anymore. The teachers made everything easy for me. I never had to worry about being picked on, or bullied at Open Meadow. (Thanks Mike Navarro and Tab Waterman!)
My time at Open shows up a lot today when I do my art. If it wasn't for going to Open Meadow, I wouldn't be as into art as I am now. Open Meadow gave me the courage to open up my creative side. Also when I work on my math skills. Math is something I never thought I could do very well but that could be because I never had a teacher go through it with me like Mark Burton. (Thanks Mark!)
All the teachers I have had through my time with Open Meadow are important to me. Without them I wouldn't have been able to succeed in graduating high school. I love that even though it's been almost 17 years since I graduated from Open Meadow high school, and even longer since graduating from the middle school, I still have an awesome connection with some of my teachers. I love that Open School is still helping students succeed in their school career. Thank you for all that you guys do.”
Michele Taylor, Former Staff | Open Meadow High School
"In 1998 I started as the assistant to the program/finance manager and worked the front office for admin. Later, I became Community Partnerships Coordinator, and then Program Manager for OMHS. When I started at Open, I had just gotten my masters in non -profit management. I had been working in a mental health agency for two years prior to joining OMHS. I was impressed by Open's mission, the staff, and of course the amazing students - that's what made me want to work there, and that's what kept me there until 2014.
My time at Open absolutely changed my life trajectory - 100%. I basically grew up at Open Meadow. I made lifelong friends and learned important life lessons. I would not be who I am today without OMHS. My experience at Open shows up every day in my current work (Dean of Student Leadership & Activities at St Mary's Academy) and in my personal life. It gave me a true understanding of the privilege I carry. It helped me see that it is my responsibility to use that privilege and power for change. Because of Open, I have made a constant commitment to dismantle systems of oppression."
Tiffany Terbenche, Alumna | Open Meadow High School | Open School North
"I had already been to 2 middle schools, (Whitaker & Tubman) 90 days into my middle school career. I was constantly "in trouble" and challenging authority. I wasn't wanting to listen, which in turn, affected my ability to learn a thing. I was diagnosed with ADHD and stress disorder. I reacted to everything, and usually physically or verbally.
Open Meadow become, truthfully, my only option as I was not allowed back into a public school at that time. When I interviewed, I am sure someone had to see beyond the thick layers because I truly don't understand how I was allowed in, sadly. Looking back, it was good fit for the smaller classes, more structured days and the personal relationships allowed with just the teachers going my first names.
Because of Open, EVERYTHING CHANGED!!!
My attitude, my outlook, my respect for self and others. My drive, my dedication and love for a future I never previously thought of. The middle school planted me and the high school water led and fed me. I became someone other students looked up to... I am hands down the successful woman I am today with Open Meadow behind me.
When I think of staff that played a big role, all of them did - but I would honor and say MICHAEL HOOVER!
He was my High School advocate. And a Father figure, something I did not have and always needed at that time. I have so much respect for that man to have never given up on me. To always push me to be better and to show real emotions when I was to disappoint or make him proud. It was truly an honor to be his student.
I'd also like to acknowledge that my son Anthony attended Open before the closing of the Middle School in North Portland. I gave him the opportunity in a public school setting which just wasn't successful. I was so excited when he was accepted and every evening once attending he initiated conversation at dinner about his day and what he learned. The excitement behind his voice was nostalgia. It feel so good to be a parent of a child in the program. Knowing it was going to make a difference in the young man growing before my eyes.
It was incredible difficult on so many emotional levels to see the school close....to even just drive by and see it gone."