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Learning centers help Cheektowaga-Sloan students succeed at their own pace

An investment made by the Cheektowaga-Sloan School Board to assist all students seeking extra help appears to be paying off.

Two academic learning centers – one each for John F. Kennedy Middle School and High School – opened in September, and employ a variety of teaching methods to help students. A formal ribbon-cutting was held last week.

The centers, which are open before, during and after school, aren’t the typical extra-help tool; a visit will find both struggling and successful students side by side.

Center supports include the GradPoint Online Credit Recovery Program for students at risk of not graduating, along with small-group teaching and tutoring sessions. Other help includes time management study strategies and organization, along with preparation for Regents exams, SATs and ACTs.

“These centers represent a new vision of academic programming that is aligned to 21st-century learning and meets the needs of every individual student,” Superintendent Andrea L. Galenski said. “They are student-centered and encourage all learners to be in charge of their own learning.”

Galenski added that the centers can accommodate students who require extra help, seek challenges including Advanced Placement or honors coursework, and those who may simply need a quiet space to work.

Two teachers were hired by the district to operate the centers – Christine A. Ruffner at the middle school and Kelsey L. Miosi at the high school. Galenski said that both are math teachers, which was important because math has been identified as an area of need in the district.

More than 100 students use the centers every day, according to district officials, with a quarter of them working on math while nearly 17 percent look for help in science and 21 percent seek help with English. Students also use the center for history, foreign language, business, art and other subjects.

A video shown during the grand opening describes the centers as places where students can work at their own pace and in their own learning styles, which are determined and then used to come up with strategies to develop thinking and organizing skills.

“Our aim is to ensure that every student leaves feeling as though they accomplished something amazing,” Ruffner said.

Galenski said that it is not uncommon to find study groups organized in the centers or students tutoring their classmates.

“It’s exactly what I wanted it to be,” Galenski said. “It’s a warm, inviting place for all students.”

Students also offer rave reviews – saying the centers help them “stay on track” and provide a great atmosphere in which to work.

The centers fulfill a major goal established last year by the Board of Education as it searched for ways for students to take control of their own learning. Jennifer R. Conklin-Frank, director of assessment and accountability, said the centers are typically open for at least one hour after school and sometimes longer.

“If the kids need help, the teachers will help them,” Conklin-Frank said, adding that the students are encouraged to set goals and reach them.

“Ultimately, we are here to educate students to be independent learners and to build their confidence,” Miosi said. “We want every student to realize that they can be successful at whatever they put their mind to.”

Galenski said she hopes the success of these centers will pave the way for a center at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School.