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Buffalo weighs public boarding school proposals for at-risk kids

The Associated Press
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The SEED Public Charter School is a public boarding school for poor and academically at-risk children that in southeast Washington that says more that 90 percent of its graduates are accepted to attend four-year colleges and universities.

BUFFALO — Buffalo’s chronically struggling school system is considering an idea gaining momentum in other cities: public boarding schools that put round-the-clock attention on students and away from such daunting problems as poverty, troubled homes and truancy.

Supporters say such a dramatic step is necessary to get some students into an atmosphere that promotes learning, and worth the costs, estimated at $20,000 to $25,000 per student per year.

“We have teachers and union leaders telling us, ‘The problem is with the homes; these kids are in dysfunctional homes,’ ” said Buffalo school board member Carl Paladino.

He envisions a charter boarding school in Buffalo in which students as young as first or second grade would be assured proper meals, uniforms, after-school tutoring and activities.

It’s one of a pair of boarding school proposals that have been floated in the city, where only 53 percent of students graduate in four years, English and math proficiency hover 20 points below the state average, and a majority of public schools are considered by the state to be failing. About 80 percent of students meet federal guidelines for free and reduced-price lunches.

“We are not hitting various measures set by the state or ourselves,” said Tanika Shedrick, a former charter school dean who is trying to open the state’s first public boarding high school in Buffalo. “Our students are leaving school not prepared for college.”

Her charter Buffalo Institute of Growth would supplement a college-style academic schedule with life skills and social activities that would keep students on campus seven days a week, with the goal of sending 100 percent of graduates to college or a vocational program.

“We want to make sure we’re there every step of the way,” said Shedrick, who plans to submit a charter school application to the state this year.

She estimates the per-student cost at $20,000 to $25,000 per year, to be paid for with public funding and fundraising. New York’s traditional charter school allocation is about $12,000 per student.

Both proposals in Buffalo would be subject to state approval.

About 115,000 students board at private schools in the United States, federal statistics show, in a tradition that predates the Revolutionary War, but the idea of public boarding schools is relatively new.

The Washington-based SEED Foundation opened its first public boarding school for poor and academically at-risk students in 1998 and followed up with a school in Baltimore in 2008 and Miami in 2014. A fourth school is in the works in Ohio at the request of the state’s Department of Education. The model, in which students in grades six through 12 return home for weekends, required changes in state laws.

The idea has been discussed in cities including Detroit and Niagara Falls as well.

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