Students and teachers in Gresham fight to save beloved program

GRESHAM, Ore. - Students, parents and teachers marched and pleaded with the Gresham-Barlow school board to keep a program off the budget chopping block.

The Options Program is at risk of being cut from the school budget after 26 years of helping students graduate who are struggling at school and home.

The school district is short about $5 million and needs to find a way to save money, but students, and their teachers, don't want this program to go. Here are some of the statements they made before the school board Thursday night:

"I came into high school never thinking I would make it past freshman year," said high school senior Lolo Burns. "I was depressed, unhappy and I skipped a lot. And I was failing almost every class. Just when I was about ready to give up and drop out, Options accepted me into their family. Once I started going to Options, I realized that I had the potential to change. I could be someone I never imagined."

"If all students who wouldn't have graduated from high school without options, if they could please stand up," said Options Program graduate Jordan Cooper. "This is what the Options program has brought to Gresham High School - hope, a sense of purpose, a realization that the world can be cruel, but with hard work, honesty and integrity there are no limits."

"This version of reality is hard to stomach as an adult, but can you imagine the effect of those words on a child excited to become part of the real world? It deflates them," said Sarah Beth Leech, a teacher at Gresham High School. "I'm tired of trying to inspire youth to make the world what they envision it and then in the exact same class period telling them 'I'm sorry, we cannot do better by you. That's just the way the system is.' Please don't let this program go."

We spoke with the superintendent after the meeting and he said he was moved by what the students said and applauded them for being so well spoken and so passionate about the program.

However, he said the fact is that they need to cut $5 million and this is one way to help do that. He invited all of the students and teachers to come to Monday's budget meeting to discuss the options. There have not been any final decisions made at this point.