Lincoln Center lessons for everyone

The News TribuneMay 30, 2014 

Teacher Nathan Bowling fist bumps Cesar Martinez Tuesday after learning of the progress the Lincoln Center group has made on their assignment in Advanced Placement Politics & Government. Others shown are, from left: Nicole Portillo, 16; Andy Pich, 18; and Amy Beck, 18.


Lincoln Center — an educational pilot project that’s been incubating for six years — is all grown up and ready to take on the rest of Lincoln High School.

Lincoln Center started as a limited progam within the school, aimed at students willing to put in longer days and take harder courses. But it’s so successful — not just in terms of how well its students do but in the number of Lincoln kids who want into it — that it’s essentially being expanded schoolwide.

When 42 percent of the Lincoln student body is participating in a program, it’s no longer a school-within-a-school. Under Principal Pat Erwin, the school is taking the best of Lincoln Center and offering it to all Lincoln students in the coming academic year.

It’s a big challenge. Not all students are enthusiastic about more rigorous classes and a longer school day — 70 minutes longer Mondays through Thursdays. But those components of Lincoln Center are among the factors that have resulted in a 95 percent graduation rate for its students, compared to about 66 percent for Lincoln as a whole. And Lincoln Center students don’t just graduate; many of them go on to college, something that used to be rare among Lincoln grads.

Besides the longer school day and tougher coursework, the new and improved Lincoln High School will include time during the day for academic help and learning life skills. Once a month, students will take field trips, visit colleges or participate in other activities that show them the world beyond their East Side and South End communities.

That will help Lincoln kids understand that, with some extra effort, there are few limits on where life can lead after high school. Lincoln’s a high-poverty school, with 78 percent of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunch. And many students have no family experience with higher education.

Unlike students at some of Tacoma’s other schools, going to college isn’t something most Lincoln kids have grown up expecting to do. Lincoln Center has been a big part of changing that dynamic. Taking the lessons learned from this experiment and applying them to the entire school is the smart thing to do.

The real challenge for educators will be not to overly dilute the rigor for a larger population of students, some of whom may not be as motivated as the original Lincoln Center kids. Scaling up success can be hard. If any school can do it, though, Lincoln can.

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