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Inspiring students to learn at Our Lady of Black Rock

One of the most diverse populations of students can be found inside a west side Catholic elementary school in Buffalo. Many students at Our Lady of Black Rock are able to attend through the Catholic Diocese Bison fund. WBFO's Focus on Education Reporter Eileen Buckley visited the school to find out how educators are engaging students despite high poverty and language barriers.

"How's fourth grade?" asked Martha Eadie, Principal of Our Lady of Black Rock School. "Good!" responded the students.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Students at Our Lady of Black Rock School in Buffalo.

Students are voicing their excitement about learning as we followed a group of fourth graders while changing classes. 

"What do you like about this school?" asked Buckley. "Everything," responded one student. "Math and PE, because you get to learn something new every day."  Another student responded to the question saying "that we pray every day."

207-children in Pre-K through eighth grade attend the school located off Amherst Street near Grant.  Some children represent a number of different countries from immigrant and refugee families in Buffalo. Many do not speak English. Our Lady of Black Rock is also one of the poorest of the 40-catholic elementary schools.

"There's a lot of challenges, but I think -- my motto is whatever it takes to make it happen," said Eadie.

Eadie tells WBFO News 84-percent of the students attend the school on a Bison Fund scholarship or some form of financial aid. She's watched the poverty level rise since arriving at the school in 2010.

"Based on income, our family average income for a family of four, is $26,000, a little bit over that, so it is very difficult for families to afford this kind of education without this assistance," Eadie explained. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Martha Eadie, Principal of Our Lady of Black Rock School, shows a chart on poverty she keeps in her office.

The school is part of Assumption Parish created when several parishes and schools merged over the years with a shrinking population.  Father Richard Jedrzejewski is pastor of Assumption Church and serves as an administrator to the school. 

"I think a big part of our success or our ability to stay open, certainly has been the Bison fund and certainly the structure from the Diocese of Buffalo that allows a subsidy too on a per pupil basis that we did not have back 18-years ago when I first started here," noted Jedrzejewski.

The school relies on a number of outreach programs and works with other agencies to help provide for the needs of school families. It even partners with the Boys and Girls Clubs were some students receive breakfast, lunch, and even dinner.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Father Richard Jedrzejewski, Martha Eadie, Principal & Secretary for Catholic Education Carol Kostyniak.

"The lights are on here 'til at least 7'0' clock at night with some afterschool programing. Many of the teachers are involved there. Their preparations have to be I think more creative and catchier and more challenging too because of the language problem," replied Jedrzejewski. "The building is constantly open. Every corner is used for something."
Secretary for Catholic Education Carol Kostyniak says in order to maintain the tuition assistance.

"Pope Francis has spoken about the need for us, as church, to attend to the poor," said Kostyniak.  "Certainly when we look at the tuition assistance and what it has done here at Our Lady of Black Rock we know many of these students would not be here if we could not provide that."

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo continues to work to raise needed funds. The annual Catholic Education Dinner will be held Thursday night. "Always the changing technology in our schools is critical. Looking at the curriculum and making sure that we are integrating our Catholic faith into that curriculum is always, very, very important to us, so paying attention to that. Ultimately it is the children and their success, and what they will need to be successful -- keeping an eye on them," said Kostyniak.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Looking into a classroom at Our Lady of Black Rock.

It was Kostyniak's dream to start up a STREAM program allowing students to explore learning through science, technology, engineering and math, something students seem to be embracing.

"How does it enhance what you are doing every day," asked Buckley. "More with my critical mind thinking and process of eliminating problems," responded 7th grader Kevin Keil, a STREAM student. 

"I'm Miss Franklin and I'm the Science Teacher at OLBR. They love it, especially the hands on stuff. It's a lot easier to get them to try when they're actually playing with things versus just reading and taking notes," said Sarah Franklin.

Franklin said the big challenge in the classroom is finding enough supplies for every student. 

In a math class students were happy and shouting out answers during a playful lesson.

"I like math. It helps you in different problems and my grandma always tells me when I grow up it will help me too, so that's another reason why I like math," said Rozina Miller, 4th grader.

The school continues to discover ways to inspire students despite high poverty and cultural challenges.  Our Lady of Black Rock's marketing tagline is "Where great minds grow".

Our web extra: Listen to two students at Our Lady of Black Rock interview their principal.

Two fourth graders at Our Lady of Black Rock School interview their principal.