Read the original article in The Oregonian here.
When Etsegent Ayele arrived in Portland from Ethiopia five years ago, she had trouble believing she would be accepted.
Ayele, 17, knew little English and had to adjust to a completely different new culture.
But after getting involved with Roosevelt High School’s Writing and Publishing Center, she discovered she had little to worry about.
“I found there were people who actually wanted to hear my story," she said.
Because of the center, she said, she’s no longer shy about expressing herself.
This year, the center published its first anthology, “Where the Roses Smell Best: A Literary Companion to Portland," including pieces from Ayele, other Roosevelt High students and prominent local writers, such as Oregon’s poet laureate Paulann Petersen and Oregonian columnist Steve Duin.
Recently, Ayele and other students were on hand to help celebrate the book’s publication at the Heathman Hotel in downtown Portland, where the book was added to the hotel’s library. A copy will be placed in every room and guests can purchase their own copies — with the proceeds going back to sustaining the writing center.
The writing and publishing center got its start two summers ago with the help of teacher Kate McPherson. The North Portland high school, which had long been one of the lowest-performing schools in the state, was buoyed by a federal turnaround grant worth $7.7 million.
Part of that money went toward paying McPherson to help develop a center to coach students on their writing skills and grow community partnerships for a service-learning opportunity.
The school forged a strong relationship with Portland State University’s Ooligan Press, which helped pay for publishing costs and provided mentorship for Unique Ink, the name of Roosevelt’s publishing center. The writing project also obtained a State Farm Insurance grant worth $94,000, which helped pay for publishing software, a printer and college assistants.
At the writing center, students can drop in during the school day and find student mentors or college student volunteers willing to edit essays. They can also participate in initiatives such as the Freedom Fighters Project, in which freshmen interview community members who have taken a stand for social justice.