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Education

Buffalo teens study distressed neighborhoods

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WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
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Some Buffalo Public School students recently participated in the 'Community as Classroom' program. The University at Buffalo's Center for Urban Studies used the Fruit Belt and other distressed city neighborhoods as a virtual classroom.  In this Focus on Education report, WBFO's Eileen Buckley reports on how students who participated learned what has caused some of the urban blight in the Perry neighborhood and how they created artwork for citizens.

"I learned that you could do anything that you put your mind to and that art can change neighborhoods," said 12-year-old Nisa Jenkins, a student at Martin Luther King school in Buffalo.

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Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Art project collected from material found during project by students.

"I learned that you could do anything that you put your mind to and that art can change neighborhoods," said 12-year-old Nisa Jenkins, a student at Martin Luther King school in Buffalo.

Students were recently given a task to hit the streets and acted as researchers conducting field work and asking the question why.

Jenkins participated and created a "stop the violence" mural and talked to one citizen about violent crime in the Perry neighborhood.

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Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Students display their projects from 'Community as Classroom' program.

“He said he never is like able to go outside because their always shooting or he's always hearing gun shots and it's like not a safe neighborhood for people to come outside," said Jenkins.

"So we have them kind of go out with a notebook. We sit down with residents. We spoke to people who were what 80-years-old and then people who were 7-years-old," noted Gavin Luter, Coordinator of Educational Programs for UB's Urban Studies.  Luter helped guide students to learn why there are so many  difficulties in a neighborhoods. 

"If you see a big, vacant space -- why is it a big, vacant space?  It you see a splash pad that looks like it's not being taken care of -- why do you think that is?  If you see a house falling apart -- what happen to it -- how did it get there?," said Luter.
 
Students studied neighborhoods where they live, play and go to school.   Dr. Henry Taylor is director of UB's Urban Studies program.  He said they wanted the students to study how those conditions came about and how perhaps they could create change.

"What our experience has been is that a lot of young people -- especially people of color, and particularly African Americans have very negative views of their communities and often think that the conditions that exist inside of those communities are because of things the residents did themselves," stated Taylor. "Show them how a lot of other forces, independent of the people who live there, came to create those conditions. But we also want to show them how they can engage in activities."
            
15-year-old Malilk Rainey is student at the Math Science Technology School in Buffalo. Rainey worked on a graphic novel and artwork project for this program. "We were driven to make this neighborhood a better place and that's what we did," said Rainey, about the students artwork.    

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Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Artwork students created for the program.

Students became engaged in looking at challenges, becoming critical thinkers and problem solvers.

"They have to read, they have to do research. They have to write. They have to analyze to solve the problems. So we teach them a variety of skills," said  Dr. Taylor.

13-year-old Nyah Shaw is a student at Martin Luther King School in Buffalo. Shaw helped to create a comic book. The theme was recreation spaces and how to make them better.

"When I see it more and more -- it just look worse," noted Shaw in referring to some East Side neighborhoods.      

Shaw participated in this program in 2012, but thought the program was even better than the first time, having a chance to speak to residents.

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Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Students display their artwork from the project.

"There was a parent near the playground, and he was taking about - -he thinks it's great that we are trying to change the neighborhood and he felt inspired," said Shaw.

In a hallway on UB'S South Campus the student’s community artwork is on display. They were very proud to show it.  Mural work students who participated in these art projects will soon be unveiled publicly.  The project received funding from the Erie County Youth Bureau and the UB Office of Community Relations.

"At the end of the day -- we believe that if children can learn and come to believe they can use the skills they have acquired to make things better, that this will also motivate them and make them better students across the board," said Taylor.

"At the end of the day -- we believe that if children can learn and come to believe they can use the skills they have acquired to make things better, that this will also motivate them and make them better students across the board," said Taylor.

Students learning to tackle real problems in their community by communicating and creating artful displays.