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After Alexis Taylor suffered a concussion, the Early College program became a better fit academically

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A year after suffering a concussion, Alexis Taylor entered the Beaverton School Districts Early College program at Portland Community Colleges Rock Creek Campus.For some teens, high school truly is unbearable.

Alexis Taylor, 17, learned that lesson over the past year, after dealing with the lingering symptoms of a concussion she suffered during a volleyball tournament in early 2015.

It took the Cedar Mill resident weeks before she could return to class at Sunset High School, and even then, her thinking stayed fuzzy — especially in math class — and she suffered headaches brought on by the noise at her high school.

“It was terrible,” she said. “I had the worst symptoms.”

Taylor said her brain injury made school a struggle during the end of her sophomore year, and again when she returned to Sunset as a junior last fall. She was placed on a modified educational plan, needed a tutor, dropped a challenging math class and wore ear plugs to dull the noise.

“Before my concussion, I understood everything that was happening,” she said. “Afterward, nothing made sense.”

But like hundreds of Beaverton School District students who find they don’t quite fit in at a traditional high school, Taylor found somewhere she could thrive: Early College.

The Beaverton School District’s program, a partnership with Portland Community College, this year is offering about 275 high school juniors and seniors a chance to earn both their high school diplomas through the district and college credits at PCC with the same class load.

Early College has been around for decades, but for much of that time, was small and unfamiliar to most students.

Not anymore.

For the coming 2016-17 school year, program administrator Andrew Cronk finds himself with more applicants than he has seats for the first time in the program’s history and he’s trying to make room for as many students as possible.

Cronk said enrollment in the options program is likely to top 325 high-schoolers attending classes at both the Rock Creek and Sylvania campuses next year, thanks both to growing interest among Beaverton School District students and new partnerships with neighboring districts.TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Alexis Taylor talks about how much more engaged she is with her studies at PCC Rock Creek after leaving a traditional high school for the Early College program.

The Hillsboro School District got on board last fall and the Tigard-Tualatin School District is joining in September.

Cronk said Early College is ideal for a diverse range of students, many whose families have little college history, and most for whom the regular high school experience isn’t working. Some feel like they don’t mesh due to ethnicity or gender identity.

“We get a lot of students with what I call ‘stories.’ They’re stories of adversity, stories of overcoming obstacles, feelings that they just don’t fit,” he said, adding: “If you could say one thing (about Early College students), I’m getting seekers, people who are looking for something different.”

For Taylor, that something different is something better.

She took math classes at the Rock Creek campus during her fall and winter terms before acceptance into Early College in the spring.

This year, she has carried a 16-credit load that includes classes in economics, business technology, writing and pilates.

Taylor said it was an adjustment but that she’s learning to manage her time better while getting involved on the Rock Creek campus. Last week, she was named the Associated Students of Portland Community College’s next Clubhouse Coordinator.

While students who spend a full two years in Early College have a chance to earn an Associate’s Degree along with their high school diploma, Taylor said starting later means she likely will have about 60 college credits by the time she finishes the program next year.

She plans to take those credits and head off to a four-year college, where she would start as a sophomore, with plans to study business and an eye toward a career as an entrepreneur.

Taylor already has a start as CEO of The Babysitter Society, an online calendar for regular sitters like herself and their clients, allowing both to effectively schedule child care. She developed the concept and won investor funding through the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce’s latest Young Entrepreneurs Academy.

She hopes to take that website business live this summer while retaking a math class at PCC and continuing to be active in a student-led concussion support and education group through Oregon Health & Science University.

She said her next business might just be aimed at better ways to prevent or identify concussions, or perhaps helping people who have suffered brain injuries.

“This way I’ll be able to turn (having a concussion) around,” she said. “I didn’t ask for it to happen. It kind of played out that way.”

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