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One of every two children in Buffalo is born out of wedlock.

Two of every five live in poverty.

Three in 10 changed schools last year.

And people wonder why Johnny can't read.

Most students who attend city schools are good kids from stable families. But a growing and significant number of schoolchildren are troubled -- troubled in ways that make it necessary for schools to deal with the youngsters' personal problems before they can get on with education.

It's tough to teach a hungry kid. And often impossible to educate an abused one.

"You have more and more kids coming to school with problems that have to be dealt with first before you teach," said Darryl Choates, a teacher at Southside Elementary in South Buffalo.

Many of the problems stem from incompetent parents.

"You have a lot of younger parents, and a lot of them are so caught up in their own survival that they forget about their kids," said Jacqueline Woodbeck, principal of School 4 in the Old First Ward.

Buffalo schools aren't equipped to help kids deal with their problems, however. Many of the programs to help troubled children are in almost as bad shape as the youngsters themselves.

Counselors are scarce. Remedial programs are fragmented. The result often is placement of pupils in costly special education programs that warehouse, as much as educate, children.

A lack of funds to provide adequate programs is part of the problem. But much of the blame rests in how the district operates those programs. Can you imagine spending millions of dollars to instruct 17,000 students who need help in basic math and language skills, but never evaluating their test scores?

A key to improving city schools, and the lives of their students, is providing more and better programs to help at-risk students deal with their emotional, social and learning problems, educators say.

"You're always going to have your 5 to 10 percent that are hard core and your 50 to 60 percent who are on track," said Evelyn Pizarro, principal of School 77 on the Lower West Side. "It's that 30 percent that I'm looking to sway, the kids who are borderline and could go either way, and making a difference requires support services."

Part 4 of The News' series on city schools begins on Page A6.

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