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Educational opportunities have been a strategic goal of Pathways 2020 from previous report cards. When viewed through the determinants of health, education is a vital aspect in the health of the individual, family, and community. By completing high school and attending college, an individual has a greater chance of finding a job that pays better, often with benefits. A family with higher income has a greater chance at finding safe and affordable housing, purchasing healthy foods, and participating in the life of the neighborhood and community. It is a classic example of the network that exists within the social determinants of health. As valuable as education can be for the health of the community, Cowlitz County has been both successful and challenged in this area.

In Cowlitz County, 57% of the adults have taken some college or training beyond high school. In comparison, the rate for the State of Washington is 67%. Educational attainment, particularly for adults with Bachelor of Arts degrees or higher, is significantly lower for Cowlitz County residents. The last report from the American Community Survey found that 15.4% of Cowlitz County adults have a BA degree, yet across Washington State the rate is 31.9%. Individuals with higher income are known to make better health choices for themselves. They have a healthier weight, don’t use tobacco products, refrain from binge drinking, and practice safe sex. For many years, having a college degree was not necessary for a worker in Cowlitz County to find a good paying job in manufacturing. Today the situation has changed and employers are looking for employees with technical skills, communication skills, problem-solving abilities, teamwork, and flexibility for the changing work environment. With a large number of jobs being held by adults 55 years and older, it is important to have education and job training to prepare future workers to step into these jobs as the older workers retire from leadership positions across the workforce.

Cowlitz County has been successful and exceeds the rate for the state of Washington in reducing the dropout rate and improving the cohort graduation rate. Completing high school has positive economic consequences for the individual, prevents poverty and results in more likelihood of becoming and remaining employed. The 2009-2015 American Community Survey, 5-year estimates found that 24.7% of adults without a high school degree were living in poverty; while the rate for those who had graduated from high school was only 14.3%. On average, a high school dropout’s annual income in Cowlitz County is $18,050. It jumps to $27,000 for a high school graduate and up to nearly $34,000 for the person who has some college beyond high school. Individuals with a college bachelor’s degree or higher can expect an average salary of $49,000. Obviously, there is a direct correlation between education, poverty, and personal income.

Our own Lower Columbia College has been aggressive in offering programs that help students capture missing credits, thereby helping them earn a high school diploma or the equivalent. In the last academic year LCC had 1,564 students enrolled in Adult Basic Education, English as a Second Language, and high school completion and equivalency. There were also 291 full time equivalents (15 credits) enrolled through the Running Start program.

A popular approach to high school education has been the addition of e-learning classes. These classes are primarily either fully online, hybrid (part online and part face-to-face), or face to face classes with web enhancements. During the 2013-14 college year there were 339 online courses offered which enrolled 2,434 students. These courses are most valuable to students living outside of the Longview/Kelso community. Castle Rock had 178 students and Kalama High School had 86 students who were enrolled in e-learning at that time.

Within the social determinants of health, it is recognized that a child who is enrolled in a highly qualified preschool or early childhood education program has a significant advantage for lifelong improved health. Cowlitz County is fortunate to have a recognized quality program through the LCC Head Start / Early Head Start / ECEAP programs, which just celebrated 50 years of service. By serving families who meet poverty guidelines, Head Start and related programs strive to reach families with the greatest need. Early Head Start serves pregnant women, infants and toddlers up to age 3, and a free preschool is offered by Head Start/ECEAP for 3-5-year-olds, which has 532 children enrolled. Head Start has been successful in securing additional funds to serve more children. Today they reach 49% of the income eligible three and four-year-olds in the County. Unfortunately, because of funding limitations, they can only reach 4% of the infants and toddlers who would be eligible for services. Programs are now at a crossroads because serving additional children and classrooms would require new facilities and the options are limited. A five-year strategic plan hopes to find resources to replace and add up to six new classrooms.

A newer program in the community serving pregnant women, infants and toddlers includes the Nurse Family Partnership project of the Cowlitz County Health and Human Services. Nurses are assigned to work with first time pregnant women and provide them with ongoing care and advice through the birth and development of the child. The Children’s Home Society is providing the program “Parents As Teachers” which supports parents through the different developmental stages of their children. Cowlitz County is fortunate to have several child serving organizations that routinely collaborate for the benefit of the child and family.

Along with a strong preschool education, having children healthy and ready to learn as they enter the public schools is important. Cowlitz County has a high rate of childhood immunizations for children entering kindergarten at more than 90%, compared to only an 83% rate for the state of Washington.

A number of changes have occurred in the county with three of the six school districts recruiting new superintendents in the past 18 months. The Woodland School District will soon open its new high school and will continue projects to serve the growing population. The communities continue to support schools by passing maintenance and operation levies, but aging school buildings will become a greater factor in the coming decade. Lower Columbia College in the past year has opened their new Health and Science Building, with its state-of-the-art environmental construction, and the student-financed physical activity center is attracting families, students, and staff to participate in an active lifestyle.

While the community continues to embrace education with public schools, preschools, and the community college, there is a growing interest for lifelong learning actively being demonstrated by the senior population. During the last academic year, LCC had 1,812 students enrolled in continuing education courses. While many are for enrichment and enjoyment, a growing number of classes are aimed at the senior population, with topics ranging from computer skills to wills and financial planning.

Call to Action - Personal: 
  • Support local schools
  • Volunteer to be a tutor for school children or adults
  • Donate to school foundations and scholarship programs
  • Read and play with young children daily
  • Offer to be a mentor to youth through a local program
  • Enjoy life-long learning
Call to Action - Community: 
  • Continue to enhance curriculums of child care centers and preschools
  • Coordinate literacy activities through Cowlitz County Literacy Council
  • Create a universal library card for Cowlitz County libraries
  • Advocate for accessible and affordable  k-12 and college classes and services
  • Support new capacities for Head Start classes
  • Teach healthy behavioral skills that enhance education to remove negative behaviors
  • Encourage employers to provide workers flexible schedules in to order to take college classes
  • Make literacy a goal for businesses
Call to Action - Policy Makers: 
  • Maintain and expand Head Start/ECEAP
  • Fund and maintain public and school libraries
  • Business supports literacy as important community goal
  • Fund before and afterschool programs

Success Stories

High School Students Earning College Credit
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Local enrollment in Running Start, a dual-credit program offered by Lower Columbia College that allows teens to earn both high school and college credits without paying tuition, has steadily increased over the past few years. Nearly 400 juniors and seniors from Cowlitz County high schools were enrolled in the program this year. LCC has also created an outreach program to aid students in rural districts who might find it difficult to travel to the campus in Longview. The outreach program enables students to take college courses online and receive support from tutors and advisors at outreach centers located at their high school. The program was originally launched in Toutle and has since expanded to Castle Rock and Woodland.

Career Pathways is another opportunity for high school students to earn college credit for vocational classes. It is a partnership between LCC and and high school instructors designed to guide students into high –skill, high-wage careers with local industries. High school students are awarded dual credit for classes completed at their high school and passed with a B grade or better. The credits will then transfer to programs at LCC or any other two-year and some four-year institutions in Washington State. Examples of classes include accounting, automotive technology, business, diesel & heavy equipment, drafting, machine trades, computer science, early childhood education, fire science, pre-nursing, welding and medical assistance.

Advanced Placement classes are a third way qualified high school students can earn college credit. These accelerated classes allow students to perform college level work and then take nationally scored tests to potentially earn college credit.

Local high schools are increasingly adding more classes to their curriculum which allow students to seek either Advanced Placement or Career Pathways credits.

Cowlitz Black Bears Literacy Night
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A record breaking 977 people were admitted to the Cowlitz Black Bears Literacy Night baseball game last summer. Children, who participated in the summer reading program at any of the county’s public libraries by reading 100 minutes or more, received free entry to the game. Team representatives also met with more than 200 kids and adults at the summer reading program’s kickoff and grand finale picnic.

Kelso–Longview Library Card
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The Kelso and Longview Public Libraries have begun a pilot reciprocal lending program which will last through the end of June 2016. People holding a library card in good standing at one library can go to the other library, present their card and ID, fill out a short application and receive a card from the other library. This allows them the opportunity to check out books and other materials from either library. As the Longview Public Library is more of a reference library and the Kelso Public Library has a large collection of popular books, the new lending program will give card holders a greater selection to choose from.

Lower Columbia College Health and Science Building
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With an ever increasing demand for graduates in healthcare and STEM related fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), the completion of Lower Columbia College’s Health and Science Building could not have come at a better time. The 70,000 sq.ft. building features technology enabled classrooms and labs, outfitted with the latest in scientific equipment. It was designed with multiple sustainability features such as solar panels, rain garden irrigation system, daylight harvesting systems and hydration stations where students can fill water bottles. Both student lectures and community events can take place in the 145-seat Laufman Lecture Hall, and the McLaughlin Resource Center will provide space for community science activities, STEM workshops and student projects. The entire second floor of the building is dedicated to nursing and healthcare studies. An Economic Development Administration Grant totaling $845,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce was combined with matching funds from the LCC Foundation to ensure the new building had the necessary equipment and technology to train its students for their chosen careers.

Woodland High School
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In one of Woodland’s largest construction projects to date, its new $43 million high school will have a classroom capacity of about 850 students when it opens in the fall of 2015. District officials have been trying to cope with overcrowding for more than a decade. The current high school, built in 1954, was designed for 400 students and now holds more than 600, many in portables. The new, 156,000 sq.ft. school is located just off the Dike Road exit of I-5.Woodland voters overwhelmingly approved a $52.8 million bond in 2012 to replace the current high school, enhance safety and security and replace the old gym at Yale Elementary. In addition to classrooms, the school will feature an 8000 sq.ft. commons area which will serve as both an auditorium and cafeteria, 1,500 seat grandstand, competition sports fields, practice field, library, computer rooms and administration facilities. The Woodland School District will use its current high school building to reconfigure its middle school, and will be able to move students out of portable classrooms as a result. Currently, seventh and eighth graders use the middle school. Next year, fifth through eighth-graders will attend classes there, utilizing both the middle and former high school.