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State grant will help boys of color in Buffalo schools

Buffalo Public Schools has been awarded $800,000 to help tackle the achievement gap facing its boys and young men of color.

The $812,610 awarded to Buffalo was part of the $10 million the state Education Department will distribute to 56 school districts and colleges across New York as part of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

“It’s very exicting,” said Superintendent Kriner Cash. “We have been waiting on it and if you go through the list Buffalo is among the more handsomely rewarded around this issue.”

Introduced by President Obama in 2014, My Brother’s Keeper provides funding for programs that intervene in the lives of black and Hispanic youth and set them on course toward a better educational future.

New York was the first state to fund an expansion of the Obama program by including $20 million in its budget for this year.

In Buffalo, the school district is partnering with Medgar Evers College, a predominantly black institution in Brooklyn, with the idea to use Medgar Evers professors and students as mentors for boys of color.

It’s unclear exactly how the long-distance relationship will work, but is expected to include school and campus visits, as well as regular communication by phone, text message and computer.

One out of every three students in Buffalo Public Schools is a black or Hispanic male and, as a whole, they perform worse than their white peers in both math and English language arts. A smaller percentage of them graduate high school, too.

Among the goals of the initiative is to help raise their academic confidence and expectations for the future. The intent is not only to target high school students in Buffalo, but also instill those high standards in boys of color as young as middle school.

Cash expects the My Brother's Keeper initiative to fit seamlessly with the district's larger reform agenda, which has included establishing some buildings as "community schools" where the doors are open after hours to provide students and their families with more wrap-around services, ranging from parent outreach and  job training to mentoring and connections to health care.

"In many ways, I’m making sure we’re well aligned in all this work and have strategic impact,” Cash said. “It’s not one thing here, one thing there, another there. It’s all coming together and integrating.”

The state announced the funding for schools on Tuesday, along with a report providing districts some guidance on implementing their programs.

While the initiative relies heavily on mentors to steer students and keep them on track, strategies should also focus on culturally-relevant teaching; family and community engagement; college-readiness programs; and training more minorities as classroom teachers, the report recommended.

In fact, a third of the $10 million awarded by the state was given to 16 colleges to bolster participation of minorities in careers as teachers.

Medgar will receive $324,997.

"That teacher integration work is just so import so we get more diversity in our teaching core," Cash said.

The partnership between Buffalo and Medgar began when Superintendent Kriner Cash and Medgar President Rudolph F. Crew were included on a state panel focused on improving academic outcomes for boys of color. Cash also worked for Crew in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the two are friends.

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