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Summer school program promotes enrichment & learning for city kids

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

About 5,000 Buffalo School children have been attending summer school programs that are engaging them in learning.  Say Yes Buffalo is assisting the Buffalo Public School District with summer school. It provided needed funding that allowed for all elementary students to attend.  In this Focus on Education report -- WBFO'S Eileen Buckley visited Native American Magnet School #19 on the city's West Side where school children spent three hours a day on math, reading and enrichment.

Classrooms inside the school building were buzzing with student activity -- some students were in the middle of their enrichment program.  Students were creating "dream catchers".  School 19-teams with the Native American Community Services of Erie and Niagara Counties.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Students make dream catchers as part of enrichment.

Amy Huff is the Excell Program Coordinator.  The organization worked to offer  diverse activities with weekly themes to education and entertain.

"Very easy to infuse academics into enrichment periods. We had a sinker float -- kind of experiment they were allowed to do.  Allowed them to get a little bit wet with water to see what objects would sink and which objects would float -- so you can connect that to Common Core learning very easily," said Huff.

Students also played various games to build team spirit and teach social and emotion skills.

"So I would say in general, that's what our overall aim was -- to get everyone engaged in the activity cooperating with one another and feeling good about themselves when they left the door," said Huff.   

"I was very happy that there was that enrichment piece," said Linda Brancatella, principal at Native American Magnet School. She said it was a "no brainer" to partner with the organization.

"The traditional notion of summer school is 'oh you didn't do so well  -- the kids know that they want to improve their reading and math skills, but at the same time to, this was a chance for them to have some fun," said Brancatella.

Mark Smalls is an assistant Excell program coordinator working with the Native American Community Services.  "The students are very engaged in each activity in each activity we present to them," noted Smalls.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Mark Smalls holds up students work.

They created the enrichment programs by working around the needs of students and the school. 

"We do ask the students what type of activities they are willing and want to do," said Smalls.

In another classroom -- some older elementary students were receiving the math less. Two enrichment academic programs are Voyager Reading and Voyager V-Math.  The Buffalo School district worked with Voyager to condense the program into 45-minutes each of reading and mathematics.  Voyager includes Common Core. 

Most will lose two-months of a grade level in math during the summer months.  For low-income students, they stand to lose more than two months of reading.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Students math work in summer school.

"It beats being at home and sleeping in and then trying to figure out what to do,"' said Smalls.

Principal Brancatella said Summer school helps students remain on track.  "We don't want to spend all of September rebuilding any skills they may have lost. The summer school takes care of that bridge for us," said Brancatella.

Initially over 500-students enrolled at the magnet school for the half-day program.  Attendance  fluctuated daily with about 400 or less attending.  Say Yes provided $1.2 million for any Pre-K through 6th graders to attend this summer.  It was a major contribution -- allowing the district to preserve summer school.

"We want to make sure that ultimately we are providing quality programming," said Betsy Behrend, senior director of communications with Say Yes Buffalo.  Say Yes works with about seven different community based partners for after-school and summer programs.  Students received breakfast and lunch during summer school.  

11-hub sites for summer school, with two to three schools at each were established.  The four week program ends Friday.  Say Yes wanted to make sure it wasn't just babysitting students, but to reinforce academics.