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Despite wildfire, Talent-Phoenix students exceed state graduation rate

April Ehrlich
JPR News

Student homelessness in the Phoenix-Talent School District more than doubled after the Almeda Fire destroyed thousands of homes last year.

Weeks after the fire, students had to go back to school online for distance learning.

Despite these challenges, 93% of Talent and Phoenix students attending Phoenix High School are set to graduate on time, according to datareleased Thursday. That’s 10% more than the state average.

Superintendent Brent Barry says overcoming last year’s obstacles while also trying to graduate on time was difficult for many students.

“Families had to seek shelter, seek basic needs,” Barry says. “Many were doubled up with other family members. Many were at the Expo crisis management center, in hotels. So, it wasn’t a normal year for a lot of our students.”

More than 700 students in the district lost their homes, more than doubling its student homelessness rate from 12% to 30% in a single night.

Barry says part of their success comes from one-on-one outreach from teachers, as well as community members coming together to help families in need.

“We had bridges of communication built right away that carried throughout, really, the whole year,” Barry says. “And when you have that communication, it really helps support kids and families.”

About 44 percent of students in the high school identify as Hispanic or Latino — and they are graduating at a higher rate than other students.

Governor Kate Brown allowed the district to return to in-person learning earlier than most districts because of the fire. Barry says that also helped students reach their educational goals.

April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, she was a news host and reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.