Friday, October 24, 2014

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads_Buffalo Students Rock Mayor Brown’s Bully Free Bus Tour

Generally this column addresses the current problems in and threats to the Buffalo School System.  But even as we experience unprecedented attacks from within as well as from the outside, there is incredibly positive teaching and learning going on in the Buffalo Public Schools.  This week, I had the opportunity to visit a number of schools and see firsthand talented, articulate and personable young people, who have goals and aspirations for their future.   October is Bully Prevention Month.  In recognition of the need to send a message that bullying is a serious problem, Mayor Byron Brown organized a Bully Free Bus Tour this past week.  On October 23rd, fellow Buffalo Board members Mary Ruth Kapsiak, Patti Pierce and I boarded a yellow bus with the Mayor, Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie, Deputy Mayor Ellen Grant, Associate Superintendent, Dr. Will Keresztes, DPCC Members Byron McIntyre, Dr. Wendy Mistretta, P.L.A. Executive Director Mody Cox, Deputy Police Commissioner Kim Beaty and several other Board of Ed and City Hall staff to visit five Buffalo Schools. 

It was a great day, starting with breakfast provided by students at Emerson and a proclamation presented by Mayor Brown designating the month as Bully Free Month.  Next stop on the tour was at International School #45, where students, in grades Pre-K through 6 speak over 40 languages.  An assembly program for the lower grades featured illustrations on how bullies, people being bullied, bystanders and (new to me) upstanders each play a role in a bullying situation.  The key to stopping the bully, the children learned, was to be an upstander.  At South Park High School, we had an open and heartfelt dialogue with students, who shared difficulties that they’d encountered that would have been difficult for adults to overcome.  Yet with the help of school administrators and support staff, each of these students is on track to graduate and to move on to college next year.

The Tour continued to Performing Arts where we were treated to an awesome, multi-discipline (dramatic reading, performance art, dance, acting, vocal and instrumental music), student created performance on bullying. The finale at Waterfront included a greeting by the school’s band playing Eye of the Tiger and the Glee Club’s adaptation of Pharrel's “Happy”, transformed to the Attendance Song.  And while the Mayor’s Tour ended at the Waterfront School, Mrs. Kapsiak, Mrs. Pierce and I joined the students and faculty on October 24th at Lorraine Academy for the unveiling and dedication of their decorated “anti-bullying” Buffalo statue.  I ended my week of school visitation at my own Pre-K granddaughter’s school, Montessori #32, where I joined other parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles in the class’ first Family Day.

I wish I could describe more fully the programs I attended on the tour and the day after.  Space does not permit such a detailed presentation.  However, I want to end by saying that of the seven schools I visited, I had the following take-aways.  Now, even though I know this, it was reinforced that Buffalo Schools have a very diverse population of students.  Therefore each has its own unique culture.  And within this unique culture, children are learning, children are thriving and children are nurtured as well as educated by their teachers and other educational professionals.  The State Education Department has forced us to measure our students by one yard stick.  Within our own families, we know that no two children will develop exactly the same, even when their parents try to parent them in the same way.  Teachers need the freedom to develop and use teaching strategies that address the unique learning styles of different students.  And students need the individualized attention in order to reach their potential.  I encourage the readers to take a closer look at the Buffalo Schools.  Don’t believe the hype. There are a lot of good things going on in our schools.  And the students in the Buffalo Schools ROCK!

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