Founded in 1968, Metropolitan Learning Center grads say the school established a radical tradition

(Image is Clickable Link) COURTESY MLC HISTORY PROJECT - Metropolitan Learning Center students pose for a photo in the late 1960s. Six-year-olds sat next to high school seniors in multi-age homerooms known as "base stations."

Students called out the first names of their instructors, who themselves might be attending Reed College or Portland State University. Others wandered the halls or even "checked out" of the building for internships, events or political protests. Electives covered everything from yoga to glass blowing.

For decades, the only thing you knew you wouldn't find at Metropolitan Learning Center was a rigid rulebook — or a letter grade.

On Saturday, Sept. 15, hundreds of former MLC pupils, parents and teachers gathered at the three-story brick building, 2033 N.W. Glisan St., to relive the 50 years that have passed since the K-12 public school opened in 1968.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Former students, parents and teachers gather at the front lobby of Metropolitan Learning Center during a celebration of the school's 50th anniversary on Saturday, Sept. 16. "It was a really good place to be because we were misfit, hippy kids," said Camilla Fountaine, an MLC student from 1974 to 1980. "It shaped me as a human being."

Tracy Neuhauser ('70-'76) didn't take a math class for three years, though she passed a standardized test on the subject annually. When she had trouble with one such test, the motivation to hit the books was internal.

"It wasn't my mother or my teacher. It was me," she said. "That pushed me to do better."

Experimental and experiential learning was and is a core focus at MLC, with students packing into 72-seat buses or a reserved Amtrak train car for trips to the coast, mountains or the state capitol. With the city's mounted police force stables located nearby, one popular class taught how to care for horses.

Another student in the '70s, Tafflyn "Taffy" Williams-Thomas, remembers the free-wheeling atmosphere that allowed classmates to gather in the school's auditorium.

"We'd go into there and we'd dance instead of going to class," she said.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Former MLC students examine old photos during the 50th anniversary celebration of the downtown Portland Public School on Saturday, Sept. 15. There are still "threads and remnants" of the radical tradition established at MLC, according to Principal Alexa Pearson, who goes by her first name around the 400-student campus.

The whole school still occasionally musters at Washington Park, and the famed eggdrop happens each year like clockwork. Current electives include chess, cursive, knitting, yoga and ultimate frisbee.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A copy of 'The Dirty Bus' is displayed during the 50th anniversary celebration of Metropolitan Learning Center in Portland. The impact of offbeat education is clear after an interview with two recent students, Aliza Lieberman-Barnard and Aiden Koll, who attended MLC until 2008. They rattle off the center's five core principles of compassion, courage, integrity, self-discipline and respect and recall a circus-themed project with a working trapeze that incorporated a wide range of concepts.

"Everyone was so accepting of each other. You could be 'weird' to the outside world but at MLC," says Aliza, beginning a thought.

Aiden finishes: "You'd find your people."

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