Community partnerships invigorate East High School

UB, Say Yes and other local organizations are banding together to inject new energy into a high-needs school

Release Date: April 17, 2014 This content is archived.

“Our partners give us access to expertise we wouldn’t otherwise have on-site. ”
Casey Young, principal
East High School

BUFFALO, N.Y. — DNA analysis. Holiday get-togethers. Vocational training.

It’s all happening at East High School, thanks to a medley of community partners that files through the school’s double doors several times a year to discuss challenges and achievements over breakfast.

The event, coordinated by a Say Yes Buffalo employee who works at the school, provides a window into how various local organizations are banding together to inject energy into the school. The next partners breakfast will take place on April 24.

“When we’re at the table trying to find ideas to support our students and get them over the hump, we know we have people that we can go to for assistance,” said East High School Principal Casey Young. “We don’t feel so alone.”

At one breakfast, there are teachers and counselors from the school, along with workers from a nonprofit mental health agency and a D’Youville College program that prepares East students for health care jobs.

The University at Buffalo’s Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership (ISEP), which helps reinvent science education with more hands-on learning, is represented by coordinator Karen King. The program arranged for biology teacher Patrick McQuaid to conduct summer genetics research at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and paid for him to buy a DNA amplifier so he can lead related experiments in class.

One planned activity: Asking students to extract and analyze their own DNA.

“Our partners give us access to expertise we wouldn’t otherwise have on-site,” Young said. “With ISEP, science and technology moves at such a fast pace that what you learn can become outdated very fast, and the program counters this by giving Mr. McQuaid state-of-the-art training and supplies, which he’s able to share with the rest of our science teachers.”

The community partners helping at East are varied, and their efforts diverse.

Contributions to the academic and social life of the school include:

  • A 2013 Thanksgiving feast that doubled as a parent-teacher event. More than 200 people attended. Families met with teachers, and the principal handed out report cards personally. Ben Hilligas, Say Yes Buffalo site facilitator at East, focuses on coordinating external partnerships at East and helped plan the event.

  • Academic support. Ninety percent of students in East’s Health Occupation Training Program graduate, says Young. This program is supported by D’Youville College’s Nursing Workforce Diversity Program, which provides free tutoring, mentoring, SAT prep, college tours and more.

  • College students in class. Through ISEP, UB students in science and engineering work at East on a regular basis, helping teachers teach and kids solve problems. This semester, two UB undergraduates and three graduate students are participating.

  • Scholarships — and a new mindset. East High graduates can get scholarships to any public college in New York, or one of 53 private institutions nationwide through Say Yes Buffalo. Say Yes scholarships cover tuition for eligible students, and after only one year has “East students of all ages talking about and preparing for college,” Young says. “Students used to talk about college only in their junior and senior years, and with Say Yes now it is a conversation that begins at orientation.”

  • Help navigating financial aid. UB Assistant Professor Nathan Daun-Barnett and a troop of UB students and volunteers helped double the number of East High students completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) between spring 2012 and 2013. The FAFSA determines eligibility for federal financial aid, and students must fill it out to be eligible for Say Yes scholarships.

  • College prep. The Liberty Partnerships Program at UB offers East High students services including academic counseling and college application assistance. Liberty Partnerships and faculty at East have discussed expanding on this work to create an on-site college success center where students could get help registering for SATs, finding the right college and picking the right major and career.

All the organizations working at East have the same goal: To increase student engagement, performance and graduation at a high-needs, urban school.

“If you go into schools in Buffalo, you’re going to see hardworking teachers and caring administrations, and at East, you’re also going to see a multitude of community partners that are bringing real services to students,” said David Rust, Say Yes Buffalo’s executive director.

The objective moving forward will be to improve communication between community partners to ensure they coordinate their efforts in a way that makes sense and maximizes the use of time and resources.

Already, new opportunities are forming. McQuaid’s experience in ISEP led ISEP leadership into a deeper conversation with Roswell Park, which has invited high schoolers to work with institute scientists each summer for the past 60 years. McQuaid, ISEP coordinator Karen King and ISEP project lead Joseph Gardella, a UB professor, are working with Roswell officials to develop learning experiences that will help prepare students from East for summer research internships in Roswell labs.

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