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Buffalo high schools host open houses on new programs

Students and parents got a preview Saturday of the new career and technical programs being offered next year by Buffalo Public Schools, as part of its high school redesign.

Students entering ninth grade in September were invited to the high school showcase at Bennett High School on Saturday morning to check out the new high school offerings and apply. They include:

• A partnership between SolarCity and South Park High School, where they’ll teach advanced manufacturing of solar panels.

• Computer science – such as gaming, coding, animation and digital design – at Bennett.

• A bioinformatics and life sciences program in partnership with the University at Buffalo and the company Empire Genomics.

• A focus on law, public safety, government and public administration at East High School.

• Lafayette High School will become an international school for students who arrived from another country within the past four years.

It’s all part of a plan to overhaul some of Buffalo’s under-performing schools, while trying to provide more high-quality, high school options for the city’s students. The key: finding areas of study that interest them.

Buffalo has a long history of vocational training, but there was a shift in the mid-1990s with the arrival of new academic standards, said James G. Weimer Jr., associate superintendent for school leadership.

“I think that’s where we lost a lot of the young people – and their interests,” Weimer said. “That’s when all of our vocational programs started to go away.”

Now, the district is trying to bring that back by providing different themes at different schools – computer science at Bennett, public administration at East – while highlighting some of the other career programs that already exist, including those at McKinley, Burgard and Emerson high schools.

The district, in fact, is hoping to replicate the success at the Emerson School of Hospitality, the culinary school that started as an annex on Chippewa more than 15 years ago, when Weimer spun it out of the now-closed Emerson Vocational High School on Sycamore Street. A second Emerson opened at the start of this school year.

“Very simply, we’re hoping – as Emerson was when it opened – that these areas are of interest to young people,” said Weimer, the former Emerson principal. “What we found at Emerson was that when students are interested in a specific program or technology, they come to school.”

While Buffalo students may already have received their ninth-grade placement at a high school, they are still welcome to apply to one of the five new programs, each beginning next year with a ninth-grade class.

A total of 400 ninth graders will be assigned to the new programs.

Besides the event on Saturday, the district will hold individual open houses for each one of the new schools.

An open house is scheduled from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday at Bennett, 2885 Main St.; 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. April 13 at South Park High School, 150 Southside Parkway; 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on April 16 at Lafayette, 370 Lafayette Ave.; and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on April 18 at East High School, 820 Northampton.

The open house for the Research Laboratory of Life Sciences & Bioinformatics was held Thursday at the UB Center for Bioinformatics on Ellicott Street.