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Editorial: Schools program aimed at the entire community

The 13 community schools operating in Buffalo are having a positive impact, an encouraging sign as the school district is expanding the program.
District officials will continue tweaking programs to better suit the unique needs of each environment. More important, they realize the need to better communicate to residents that the schools are not just for parents and students. They are called “community schools” for a reason.

In one of the more exciting initiatives begun by Buffalo Public Schools, these neighborhood hubs will play an important role in enhancing individual lives and the collective well-being of the city.

As News staff reporter Jay Rey’s front-page story last week indicated, there has been enthusiastic response to the more than 50 different programs and dozens more services on Saturdays and weekday evenings. Participants in the free activities could take classes in computers, cooking and African history, swim, garden or sit down together for a meal, to name just a few.

The schools have attracted more than 22,000 visitors, which school officials want to double in the coming year, and served 41,000 meals, including breakfast and lunch on Saturdays, when the programs were most popular. Officials added more hours on the West Side, where attendance was highest.

The need is clear, when more than half of the children in Buffalo – 54 percent – lived in poverty in 2015, according to Census estimates. With so many households dealing with scarcity, no single program is going to solve the problem. The community school program will help.

This is a state-funded effort targeting schools in poor districts, offering students and their families a wide range of after-hours services – the wraparound approach that many in social services talk about. Attempting to deal with a child’s problems in the classroom ignores larger issues facing the family. It could be a parent new to this country and in need of English language learning, or coping with joblessness. There could be health issues with a child or parent. And then there are issues in the neighborhood, beginning with safety.

School officials are aware, better than most, of all of these issues. The hope is that dealing with out-of-the-classroom issues will help schoolchildren in the classroom.

The 13 designated community schools have been placed in high-needs areas:

Lafayette, West Hertel and Herman Badillo on the West Side; East, Hamlin Park, Futures, Harvey Austin and Lovejoy Discovery on the East Side; Bennett, Highgate Heights and Westminster Community Charter School in the Northeast; and South Park and Southside in South Buffalo.

The programs will expand when the school year starts, with the elementary schools staying open another two hours daily and the high schools open some evenings and some Saturdays.

Two new locations – North Park and Frank Sedita – are about to be added with new state funding, up $3 million to $15.5 million.
It takes a village to raise a child, but that village must also be nurtured – in this case, through community schools.

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