The Portland school district has received a national award recognizing its commitment to equity for a college readiness program that helps multilingual students build competitive academic profiles for college admission and financial aid.

Portland Public Schools is one of three grand prize winners in the National School Boards Association 2021 Magna Awards program, which honors districts around the country for advancing equity and breaking down barriers for underserved students. The district won for the Make It Happen! program, which started 14 years ago and is run through the district’s Multilingual and Multicultural Center.

“We are thrilled and honored to be chosen as a grand prize winner for our work to achieve equity for all our students, which is the central goal of our Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan,” Superintendent Xavier Botana said in a news release. “This recognition shines a national spotlight on the need to remove barriers to equity at a particularly important time, when the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the longstanding disparities that exist between different groups of students in our schools.”

Make It Happen! serves language minority students in grades nine through 12, providing them with personalized and structured academic support to ensure their success in school and help them prepare for college. Many graduates of the program are the first in their families to attend an institute of higher education. Site coordinators and volunteer academic coaches help students take challenging classes, develop strong college applications, and engage in civic and leadership activities.

This is the first time a Maine school district has been recognized with a Magna Award for its equity work in the program’s 27-year history, according to the release. The prize includes a $5,000 grant that the district will use to establish a college scholarship fund for students who participate in Make It Happen! with more details expected to be announced this spring.

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