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Keeping students on track to graduate

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

A program continues to rescue students who are 'at-risk' of dropping out at some of Buffalo School District's lowest performing schools.  WBFO's Focus on Education reporter Eileen Buckley met with one of those students who was enrolled in the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection program.

"I was in a rough position academically, but when I came here, I was able to raise my grades up and really develop in a diverse environment," said Karrengton Williams, Senior at South Park High School. 

Williams was struggling with his school work, saying he had a difficult time understanding the materials and curriculum. "Basically with just the classes in freshmen and sophomore year I was basically struggling in almost every class I had, but when I came here, that all changed," said Williams.

WBFO News asked Williams what made the difference in turning around his situation.

"Basically the teachers -- that they're there for me. That I can go to them whenever I am in need of help," stated Williams. 
Williams is among 34-South Park High School students who successfully completed the Hillside program this school year.

Williams said Hillside brought him the clarity needed to complete his work.  Last year he was on the Merit Rolll and this year -- the Honor Roll.  

Hillside has youth advocates working at four Buffalo Public Schools.  The program reaches those at-risk students, preventing them from dropping out and allowing them to earn  their high school diplomas.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Lamont Williams, Executive Director of the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection.

"Really see ourselves as a partner or supporter to the district to help them with increasing their graduation rates," said Lamont Williams, Executive Director of the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection.

"We are really celebrating about 125 students or so that we've been able, since partnering with the district have them graduate," noted Williams.

Students were kept on track, preventing them from dropping out and supporting them to complete their high school education on-time. 

"That's right," said Williams.  "Many of these students, when the come into the program, struggle academically, they struggle with attendance issues, maybe some behavioral issues, they're maybe behind in two or more of their core subjects. Those are some of the issues we are able to work with them and work with the teachers and administrators at all of our schools sites to help remove some of those barriers." 

"We're all looking at the whole child and that's how Hillside fits well into our mission," said Theresa Schuta, Principal at South Park High School. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Theresa Schuta is Principal at South Park High School.

Schuta tells WBFO News Hillside has allowed the school to make sure those academically struggling students get the help they need.

"And then also have a place that's looking out, really specifically for them, and I think that's what people say about South Park -- we work in a community school model," said Shuta.

"What is the biggest struggle for your students right now?," asked Buckley.  

"The biggest struggle for our students is probably life in general, you know there's a lot of things that are trying to pull teenagers away from their academics and these kids are struggling with a lot of things we didn't have to," noted Schuta. "We look at social media.  There's so many problems with society, so I consider our kids heroes, because they're forging forward in some really difficult times."  
Schuta noted South Park's graduation rate has improved.  8-years ago it was at  38.8-percent and now it's at 58-percent. Hillside serves a total of 360-city students at South Park, Bennett High, Emerson and Burgard. Last year 97-percent of those in the Hillside program graduated on-time.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Outside South Park High School in Buffalo.

Lamont Williams noted that at the same time students receive part-time work experience and jobs skills 

"I say what's key to the program is the mentoring relationship between the youth advocates," stated Williams.  "In many instances, the sheer relationship between the student and youth advocate help drive the students into the building."

For Karrengton Williams, he has managed his academics, a part-time job at Wegmans, plays football and was trained by Independent Health to serve as a nutrition ambassador, teaching other students about leaning to live a healthy life.    
"What do I look for in my future of schooling, just giving it all I have, giving it all in the classroom, out on the football field and maturing myself into a better individual and staying on top of my responsibilities," said Williams.