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The Editorial Board: With apprenticeship program, Say Yes Buffalo finds a new way to help

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Trezhon Powell (copy)

Trezhon Powell examines a safety switch during a mechatronics class at Northland Workforce Training Center. The 18-year-old is benefiting from the apprenticeship program offered by Say Yes Buffalo.

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When Say Yes Buffalo arrived here 10 years ago, expectations were sky high. The intensive, abundantly funded program would not merely be a boon for students who could not afford college, some observers said, but an instant game-changer for the entire region. The truth – as is so often the case – lay somewhere in between, as the educational challenges posed by under-educated high school graduates made themselves clear.

Now, in a creative take on its mission, the organization has started an apprenticeship program in a focused effort to improve the economic prospects of the underserved population it seeks to help. With CareerWise Greater Buffalo, Say Yes is offering a new avenue for students of six Buffalo schools to directly enter the workforce after graduation – with or without a college degree. For students who enter the apprenticeship program, it surely is a game-changer, as it may also be for the employers who are better able to overcome a critical lack of trained workers.

Among the high-profile companies powering and benefiting from the program are Wegmans, Tesla, Rich’s, M&T Bank, Harmac Medical products and Moog. The Northland Workforce Training Center is deeply involved. The program served 124 students in its first year, but plans to expand quickly, with projections of providing apprenticeships for 600 students a year by 2029.

When Say Yes first arrived in Buffalo, its focus was on guaranteeing a college education for any city students who graduated from high school but couldn’t afford the cost. In that, it has been successful. The program’s 2020-21 report shows that Say Yes Buffalo has provided more than $18 million in scholarships to thousands of Buffalo students, more than 2,400 of whom have earned a postsecondary degree.

Its efforts aren’t limited to funding college educations. It also does the foundational work that may be needed, offering supports that include social services and health home care coordination, mental health care, in-school and mobile health care, legal advice and early childhood development.

Now, in a new approach, it’s working to close the gap for those for whom the college track doesn’t work out or isn’t what they want. In that, it’s both a valuable addition to the community’s success and an indictment of a public school system that graduates students who aren’t prepared for what comes next.

Those kinds of problems may not be uncommon in a large urban school district – especially one characterized by high levels of poverty and a refugee population that, while welcome and beneficial, includes many non-English speaking students who nonetheless need to be educated.

Those are facts, not excuses. The district has to do better. Say Yes already is.

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