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Buffalo to Offer New After-School, Summer Programs With Grant

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A Buffalo, N.Y., education partnership recently received a four-year, $4.5 million grant to establish new after-school and summer learning programs in the city's public schools.

The grant from the Wallace Foundation will expand the Say Yes Buffalo program, which provides supports for K-12 students and ultimately pays tuition for any student from the city district who wants to go to college and graduates high school in four years.

(The Wallace Foundation also provides support for coverage of extended and expanded learning in Education Week).

The program is similar to the Say Yes program in Syracuse that Education Week reporter Sarah D. Sparks wrote about last month. As with Syracuse, the Buffalo school system is largely made up of students from low-income families and has struggled with academic performance. The programs in both cities are focused not only on academic needs, but also on providing legal, health, and social services. After-school programs and summer programs are provided for both academic and creative enrichment. When students graduate high school, they are eligible for free tuition at dozens of participating colleges and universities.

Through donations and other grants, Say Yes Buffalo started in the 2012-13 school year by providing scholarships, support services, and a student-monitoring system to ensure students were staying on track through high school. David Rust, the executive director of Say Yes to Education Buffalo said the after-school program will begin this November in half of the city's schools. Money from the grant will go toward after-school and summer school programming as well as the development of more community-based education programs.

Program officials acknowledge that the promise of free money for tuition is a critical motivating factor in getting students to graduate. According to its website, the Say Yes Buffalo tuition scholarship to the City University of New York and State University of New York schools is available to all students who live in the city and graduate in four years, regardless of family income. Tuition scholarships to private institutions are also available with many colleges offering full tuition to students from families with incomes of less than $75,000.

Sparks' story said there were promising but mixed results of universal scholarship programs, with Say Yes program officials saying they are most effective when integrated citywide. Students in other programs missed less school and showed better academic performance but didn't always end up doing well in college. Also, staff sometimes became mistrustful of the program in cases where it was focused only on a certain group of students.

Rust said in an interview the plan is to extend Buffalo's after-school program across the entire district by the fall of 2015. He said the after-school program will be designed to expand on what students are learning in school. For instance, if students are learning about ecosystems in science class, they might plant a garden in the after-school program.  He said they would run for either two-and-a-half or three hours, depending on each school's dismissal time.

Rust said the slow roll-out allows makes it posible to move with purpose and tweek things as necessary.

"In places that are doing it well, what you're ultimately seeing is healthier community indicators, less juvenile crime, higher home values, and more families moving and enrolling in the public school district," Rust said.

Say Yes Buffalo is a partnership among the city school district, the local teachers' union, the national nonprofit Say Yes to Education, and other Buffalo-area entities that is intended to provide "holistic, year-round supports" to city students during their K-12 years and beyond. 

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