The Jefferson Project


Jenna Martinez, Reporter

High school is supposed to be fun, exciting, amazing, and the final adventure before adulthood.

We anticipate prom, assemblies, homecoming, making new friends, and getting our driver’s license. From rom-coms, to chick-flicks, and coming-of-age movies we see high school as an amazing place, somewhere where everyone is a teenager in a normal school, with cliques, and everyone has their own drama. However, for one high school, this was not the case.
Jefferson High School, a school located near Pierce St. and 24th Ave. in Edgewater, has had the reputation of being the “ghetto school” for multiple years on end. People have viewed the school as a “drug school,” “unsafe,” and a school that “gave students no future.” Their graduation rates used to be low and their bad reputation has carried all the way up until 9News created an original documentary that followed four students and their principal, Micheal James, to get an insight at the school and who really were these students that attended. 9News spent a year at the school documenting everything and their results showed that the rumors and reputation of the school were misplaced.
An interview with James allowed an insight into how the Jefferson Project changed and helped the school. The questions and responses are down below:
Q: How do you think the school has changed now compared to when you first started at Jefferson High School?
A: Our school culture has changed considerably. Students are more inclined to attend post high school options and more are also receiving college scholarships to do so. Eight years ago there wasn’t much talk about students attending college and now it is the thing to consider.
Q: Have you seen an increase in students attending the school?
A: 6 years ago we became a 7-12 school. Since then, our numbers have increased for students choosing to stay at Jefferson for their high school years. Our high school graduating classes have increased because of this change.
Q: How do you think the Jefferson Project has impacted the school, students, and faculty?
A: The Jefferson Project hopefully shed a light on the stories of our students. So many come from families with parents who never received a high school diploma. We are changing that and the documentary helped shed light on 4 incredible seniors and the journeys that they had.
Q: How do you think the project might have changed and helped the school?
A: We received several donations from alumni that truly enabled us to vamp up some of our funding options. We also received supports as a result of the project.
Q: How has the environment and attitude changed within the school since the project?
A: Our kids know that we are known for creating futures for our students – whether the student is at-risk or not. There is always a sense of pride within our students – possibly another changed when compared to 8 years ago.
Q: Have you seen an increase in graduation rates? How you drive students to achieve that?
A: Have you seen an increase in graduation rates? How you drive students to achieve that?
Q: What do you personally think about Jefferson High School currently and the stereotype that it used to have?
A: Jefferson is a school where students overcome the obstacles in their lives to make great futures for themselves! This has changed drastically in 8 years. We are no longer “the ghetto” school that other schools referred to us as.
Q: What is the construction going on at the high school? Are you guys adding anything or remodeling?
A: We are building a new office space and 3 new classrooms where the office used to be. We are building a new gymnasium and updating the auditorium. Also, all classrooms will be re-carpeted and painted.
Students at Jefferson are supported by their teachers and principal, supporting their futures and helping them along with any obstacles they run into. The students carry a sense of pride that students didn’t have eight years ago. Micheal James has helped transform the school into a high graduation rate school, a school with a positive and friendly environment, and has helped students achieve their goals and pursue college diplomas and other after high school options. The school is seeing him step down at the end of the school year to look into new opportunities and he hopes that the next principal will help carry on some of the great work the school has made over the past eight years.
The 9News documentary not only explored students with aspirations like Joseph Martinez who wanted to be the first in his family to attend college, or Adriana Santos-Arriaga who was a class valedictorian who wanted to attend a four-year university out of state, or even Layline Lucero who is a hard-working student and takes time for her siblings and herself. It also explored a teacher such as Carrie Paulson, who has taught for almost twenty years and loves the kids at the school and helping them as a lot of other teachers and administration at the school.
The school supports students with their education, helps them reach their aspirations and goals, get over obstacles to achieve them, and loves to see their students flourish. The old name of the “ghetto” school or any other negative name has changed into only positive names. Becoming a school that advocates for their students and helped create a positive and supporting environment for all of the administration and students there today.