Valley Catholic photo
Students from Valley Catholic Early Learning School greet Jada Rupley.
Valley Catholic photo
Students from Valley Catholic Early Learning School greet Jada Rupley.
BEAVERTON — Oregon's governor wants every student in the state to graduate from high school in the future — starting with this year's kindergartners. More than 3 in every 100 high schoolers does not graduate.

The strategy begins with the youngest children, so a state official visited Valley Catholic Early Learning School here April 18 to see a model that seems to be working for high school seniors of the future.

"It was a wonderful visit and it gives me a good foundation as I visit other places," says Jada Rupley, director of Oregon’s Early Learning System. "It was what I hope to see on every visit. There were high-quality activities and happy kids."

Students greeted Rupley with a hand made sign, flowers and chocolates.  

Early learning schools accept infants, toddlers and preschoolers for full-day programs. They tend to serve families with parents who work full time.

Valley Catholic's version focuses on learning through experience. It's part of the Valley Catholic School system, established by the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon and serving students from infancy through high school. The center also offers after-school and summer care for children through fifth grade.

Rupley's post is new. Her job is to make sure Oregon children are ready for kindergarten. A council of other experts helps guide the effort, which also seeks input from parents and community leaders.    

"We don't often think this far back," Rupley said. She said a child's first thousand days should include complete health care and early notice if they are not developing as they should be.  

"That is the time when you can fix those delays," Rupley says.

Her department will aim to educate parents, for example, about the need to talk to their children. Youngsters from low-income families tend to come for their first day of school having heard 30 million fewer words than their middle- and high-income counterparts.  

Because early learning programs can be expensive, the state provides subsidy for low-income working families.

Rupley says staff at Catholic schools are welcome to be part of teacher trainings available statewide. A member of St. Joseph Church in Vancouver, she says that churches are often good places for early learning schools, since parents have a ready-made bond of trust and familiarity.  

In announcing Rupley’s appointment, Gov. John Kitzhaber said, “Children who arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed are more likely to read at grade level in third grade, graduate high school on time, and move on successfully in life."