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Education

JFK Middle School embraces Common Core; Buff State student, teachers participate

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We often report on the struggles of Common Core Learning Standards in the classroom, but in this Focus on Education report WBFO'S Eileen Buckley takes us inside JFK Middle School in Cheektowaga to hear about how educators and students are embracing it successfully and how future teachers are gearing up for the challenge. 

JFK students listen closely to their teacher and student-teacher during an essay exercise in their English class.

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Students at JFK Middle.

"My essay for the 'Inside, Out and Back Again' -- writing about refugees," said 8th grader Alexis Albert. She's embracing the common core.

"I use more advanced words now that I'm getting older. Next year I'm going to high school so learn how to do more," noted Albert.

8th grader Gabby Liberati says the Common Core is really helping and finds learner easier. "It really helps you a lot," said Liberati.

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Students at JFK Middle.

Others, like Matthew Taylor, said when it comes to Common Core you need to 'go with the flow'. "I think last year I had a pretty hard time, but I think I'm getting a lot of good instruction," said Taylor.

Assisting the JFK teachers are student-teachers from Buffalo State.

"Part of our mission is to develop long term partnerships with local schools," stated James Cercone, Assistant Professor of Education at Buffalo State. He helped establish the student-teaching program at JFK middle. The collaboration with the school also allows the students also get to visit the college. 

"What we're really interested in providing access to college to students who may not have the opportunity to step foot on a college campus," said Cerone.

Cercone's wife serves as principal at JFK. Gretchen Cercone noted that middle school is a great predictor of dropout and graduation rates. She recently discussed it with her faculty.

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The team of from JFK & Buffalo State.

"One of the programs we are starting is called the 'Connections Program.' It's actually a mentoring program," said Principal Cercone. "Really the difference maker can be one caring adult for a student."

Cercone's faculty is working to implement the Common Core.  Sarah Bandemer is the 8th grade English teacher. She noted the over all implementation was difficult, but the state resources that were provided were helpful.

"I took a lot of what I was already doing in the class -- used a lot more of the language of Common Core," noted Bandemer. "I wasn't getting too overwhelmed and I also wasn't overwhelming my students." 

Elise Loschiavo is a Buffalo State Student teacher assisting in the 8th grade ELA class.

"Before I came to JFK I was extremely apprehensive to say the least. I was very nervous" said Loschiavo.  "The Common Core -- what's nice about for me is that it's not new to me. I never had the experience before the Common Core."

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Teacher engages student in her essay.

Mike Lester teaches the 7th grade ELA class at JFK Middle. "Very proud that this has brought our school together. And we use each others strengths," said Lester in referring to the student-teaching program at JFK. Lester said under Common Core, it appears to be positive experience in his district, but realizes other schools struggled. 

"So it's bridging that gap. It's a little more intense. You have to focus on reaching the kids," said Lester.   

Buffalo State student teachers were assisting in both the 8th and 7th grade ELA classes.  Alyssa Moretti not seeing one single thing students are struggling with in the class.

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Cheektowaga Schools Superintendent Andrea Galenski talks with WBFO.

"I'm just really trying to get them to become more open minded," said Moretti. "Maybe just struggling with opening up more, but not really anything specific like reading or writing or anything like that."  
         
This partnership between Buffalo State and JFK is enhancing the experience for both the college and middle-school students. 

Cheektowaga-Sloan Schools Superintendent Andrea Galenski has been leading district for about a year.

"They can learn for us, so we are really both benefiting from this partnership," said Galenski.

Galenski noted that the District's graduations rates are doing okay.  But she says a discussion is underway about dropouts and what causes it.

"A lot of them feel disengaged, but they are very bright and many of them are very gifted," said Galenski.  "We made that our mission this year."

"A lot of them feel disengaged, but they are very bright and many of them are very gifted," said Galenski. "We made that our mission this year."

No one knows more about education that Buffalo State adjunct professor Dennis Wojtaszczyk. He helps guide the student teachers with 46-years of experience in education.

'I think the standards have always been in place,"said Wojtaszcyk. He said he believes Common Core has gotten a 'bad rap'.  "Over the last 46-years, I think we have just changed names. We had the Performance Indicators, now we have the Common Core," said Wojtaszcyk.

Back in the classroom at JFK, students were challenged on a Tweet of the day -- it was a quote by Lewis Carroll.  7th graders Bethany Jones and Kyle Stack were learning to write and blending new words.

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JFK teacher uses 'Tweet of the Week'

"I'm just thinking about how the quote relates to my life, and how I change everyday and how I learn something new," said Jones.

"Thinking about how it reminds me of my life because I was having the worst day two days ago. I was breaking stuff --- but now today it's my birthday so I'm having the best day of my life," proudly stated Stack.

"Thinking about how it reminds me of my life because I was having the worst day two days ago. I was breaking stuff --- but now today it's my birthday so I'm having the best day of my life," proudly stated Stack.

It was clear, in witnessing the interaction between the students and teachers, that learning was exciting.