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WHEN THE PROBLEM is to reach young people, there's one logical place to go: the schools. And with the statistics about AIDS, teen-age pregnancy and drug abuse showing many of Buffalo's kids need help and guidance of the most basic kind, the schools must recognize their power and their responsibility to step in.

The 24 community leaders who appeared before the Buffalo School Board last week, led by Arthur O. Eve, were insistent about their message -- and were right to be. Buffalo's troubled kids must be saved for their own good and the good of the community. The schools have a leading role to play.

The first business of the Board of Education is, of course, to oversee education. The board's primary responsibility is not to act as a social agency.

But the education today's young people need to ready them for a harsh world doesn't end with algebra. They need detailed and practical knowledge about their own bodies, about the dangers certain decisions will present for them, about the truth of their long-term interests and practical ways to look out for it.

Not all of them get it at home.

This kind of education also supports the more traditional kind. In their academic classes, children have to be available to be educated before education can work. If their lives are troubled, they are not likely to learn much.

Eve, the Buffalo legislator who is deputy speaker of the State Assembly, led a group of county and state officials, physicians and agency professionals. They talked about Buffalo's high teen pregnancy rate -- higher than New York City's -- and an alarming increase in the area's rate of teen-age HIV infection. They spoke of drug and alcohol abuse.

The Erie County social services commissioner urged a stronger program of sex and health education. She also brought up the hard subject of money, noting that the cost to society of providing services to substance-abusing teen parents is "staggering."

A University at Buffalo professor said the School of Medicine was ready to help, providing medical, dental and nursing students to work with students at no cost to the school district.

A foster care specialist told about the agony of teen-age girls who must be separated from babies they have neglected.

"In the name of God almighty help us to help these children make the right decisions," Eve pleaded.

A committee of the School Board is reviewing the school system's health program, and board president Judith Fisher urged the group to do its work quickly.

Indeed it should. The testimony of the community leaders at the board meeting showed not only the presence of dire need, but the presence of resources to help the schools meet it.

Eve, who has spoken to the board on this subject before, seems to be attempting to bring forces together in Buffalo to mount a concerted attack on the waste of young lives. The schools should stand with him in the lead.

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