After just two years of existence, the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology is fulfilling its mission of providing a place of hope for students and adults. It would be good to replicate that success in schools and community centers across the city.
A recent story by News arts critic Colin Dabkowski gave readers a peek into how things are progressing at the center. It turns out that the center is exceeding expectations.
Led by Amber Dixon, BCAT is hitting its stride among high schoolers and adults. The center is in the lower portion of the Artspace building on Main Street. Its mission is to increase high school graduation rates through arts education and to offer unemployed and underemployed adults training to find jobs in medical coding and pharmacy technical work.
Of the approximately 130 high school students who have participated in its school year and summer programs, 90 percent maintained passing averages, especially important in a district with a poor graduation rate. And of the first class of graduates in its medical coding program, 100 percent are employed, although not all are in the coding field.
The developers of the center took a page from a very successful book, that of Pittsburgh entrepreneur Bill Strickland’s Manchester Bidwell Corp.
Strickland is a dynamic personality who has his own up-by-the-bootstraps story to tell. He credits the arts for transforming him from a poor student to the success he is today. His concept of incorporating the arts and vocational training has been replicated in several other U.S. cities, including Cleveland, Cincinnati and San Francisco, and internationally.
Now Buffalo is on board and enjoying the benefits.
Dixon is the right leader. The former interim superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools understands the multifaceted challenges facing high school students – and adults – who are poor and struggling under challenging conditions. The center gives them a welcoming atmosphere for the lessons and encouragement being offered.
For high school students, there is instruction in digital music and recording arts. Squeaky Wheel Education Director Kevin Kline operates a video production and editing class. Students are encouraged to think outside the box, in one case producing videos describing what they would do with a trillion dollars. Always, there is discussion about being part of positive change in the community.
And this is learning for the love of learning: The after-school programs do not earn students any grades. But for students interested in the arts, the center provides the incentive to do well in school.
BCAT is now the headquarters for Squeaky Wheel’s Buffalo Youth Media Institute and has a number of collaborations across platforms. Adults learn valuable skills in the pharmacy tech and medical coding fields, thanks to relationships BCAT’s Healthcare Advisory Council has built with such partners as Catholic Health, Erie County Medical Center, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Kaleida Health.
With each high school diploma earned and job secured, the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology is helping rebuild the city.