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Say Yes students get ready to start college

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

More than 30 Buffalo Public High School graduates have been attending the Say Yes Summer Academy at ECC. The students have been awarded Say Yes Buffalo scholarships. In this Focus on Education report, WBFO's Eileen Buckley reports on students who have been attending a five-week summer school program to gain skills necessary to head to college this fall.

Inside the busy hallway of an Erie Community College building off Oak Street in downtown Buffalo -- students and teachers were gathered this summer for learning.  ECC is one of the Say Yes partners. This is the second year of the summer program helping students to learn how to navigate a college campus. But more importantly they're refreshing course work.

"We're emphasizing math, writing and reading as kind of the three most important key issues.  And in all three cases -- you can definitely tell there might be something missing," said Chris Vogt, writing instructor at ECC. 

This program is like a cramming session for students. Vogt says urban poverty creates its own set of challenges for these students.

"So as students might compare to other districts -- you can kind of tell poverty really does leave its mark," said Vogt. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Chris Vogt is a writing instructor at ECC working with Say Yes students.

Students began the summer program by taking an assessment test.  Each instructor measures a student’s progress. Erinn Hackett graduated from a city alternative school called Gateway.  She will begin her college classes at ECC this fall enrolled in an early childhood program.

"High school -- there was a lot of math and you need a refresher basically," said Hackett.  "And writing is just to improve your skills." 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Erinn Hackett graduated from a city alternative school called Gateway. She's preparing for college in the Say Yes program.

"Some of them have literally said aha -- so there have been those moments. Overall, the program is more of a gradual inclining trying to bridge what gaps there are between high school and college," noted Vogt.

Some students in the program voice their frustration when they learn about the college work load will be like and what is expected of them.

"Once they get there they are on their own and I think that is a huge change for them," said Diane McLaughlin, ECC's Say Yes coordinator for the summer program.  It's like a crash course on college life  -- a chance for these students to learn college buzz words.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Diane McLaughlin is ECC's Say Yes coordinator for the summer program.

"The problem we've had with most of the students is they really just don't get it. We start throwing terms at them like advisement, we start throwing terms at them like bursar, registrar, they don't know what that means," said McLaughlin. "A big plus to the students participating in this program when they start September 2nd, they're  going to know what those terms it mean."

School districts are striving to make sure students are 'college ready', however, McLaughlin is critical of that term --  as some Buffalo students arrive with low academics and learning disabilities.

"There not (college ready) and I think there has to be a push definitely toward the push of the four years of English and the four years of math. That's jus a given," said McLaughlin

But college remediation is nothing new, in fact SUNY has spent $70-million on remediation programs. SUNY Trustee Eunice Lewin said basic math and reading are vital and they need to do a better job in working closely with K-through 12th grade.

"So that K-through 12 fully understands the expectations, so when students enroll in higher ed they come with those basic skills that they need to do work," said Lewin.

"I think one of the things that I'm noticing is that there work ethic seems to be declining," said Laurie Davis, math teacher with ECC's Say Yes summer program.

Davis worries students struggle most with fractions and rely heavily on calculators, but she did note there was an increase in performance from last year's summer students.

"We actually had a lot of students this year, compared to year who placed into credited math the first time they took the placement test, so that was really surprising for me, because that let's me know our students are doing better in their high school classes," said Davis. 

"Well coming here every day for  these five weeks has helped me with the math, the reading, the writing," said Tiana Nickson, graduate Oracle Charter High School in Buffalo.  Nickson plans to major in culinary arts to become a chef.  While attending the class, she was working on her writing skills, drafting an essay on bullying.  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Tiana Nickson is a graduate Oracle Charter High School in Buffalo working on an essay in the Say Yes program at ECC.

The Say Yes summer program also works with ESL students -- trying to give them a chance to gain a better understanding of the English language before the begin college. Jeremy Bonhaotal is an ESL reading and writing teacher at ECC. He says with international students it's case by case.

"These students are actually pretty good. I'm a little disappointed sometimes when students are struggling, but again if I was learning a second language I would be struggling anyway," said Bonhaotal.

"I'm not really good and writing or reading," said Nassr  Taher, from Yemen.  He graduated from Riverside High School --one of the city's failing schools. Taher was  among the many English Language learners that now make up the district's student population.

"But I'm good with math and science, that's was my favorite subjects --and history too," said Taher.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Nassr Taher is from Yemen and graduated from Riverside.

Taher wants to be an  architect. His teachers describe him as a self-starter and are confient he will be very successful in the Say Yes program. 

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