Say Yes to Education Buffalo provides scholarships to students who attend a Buffalo public or charter school. In fact, every child who meets enrollment criteria – no matter race, gender or financial status – is eligible for a tuition-guarantee scholarship to all SUNY/CUNY schools, and many private colleges as well. With this kind of support, students who had previously never dreamed of going to college now have an opportunity to get higher education and better opportunities for the future.
Say Yes to Education has operated in multiple cities, but its first effort to implement its strategies districtwide was in Syracuse in 2008.
David Rust, executive director of Say Yes to Education Buffalo, said that what they learned in Syracuse will help them improve the Buffalo Public Schools.
"The first lesson we've learned is that it's worked," he said. "All the data in Syracuse shows that it is effective. Their matriculation rate into college and post-secondary rate is up 20 percent in the first four years of Say Yes' partnership with Syracuse City Schools. That's how you start to change cities and communities by pushing that amount of kids into college and post-secondary."
Not only that, but the ninth grade dropout rate is down 44 percent, math and ELA assessment scores have gone up, and the graduation rate has increased 7 percent. The community has also been affected in a positive way. Five hundred new families have enrolled in Syracuse city schools after an 11-year decline.
Child welfare, one of Say Yes to Education's key areas, has also improved in Syracuse – there has been a 70 percent decrease of children put into foster care, as well as a decrease of Child Protective Services reports.
Say Yes is already developing plans to work with the Buffalo community to help its school district.
"We look to build on good frameworks with our community partners – such as Closing the Gap, United Way and Catholic Charities – to bring opportunities to every child in the Buffalo Public School District," Rust said.
Say Yes also wants to provide summer enrichment and after-school programs to students beginning next summer, working with community partners to achieve this goal. In fact, there are already multiple agencies helping Say Yes build out the framework for these after-school programs. These programs will not only be an extension of what kids learn everyday in the classroom, but also recreation time and other enrichment activities such as computers and the arts. These include organizations such as Northwest Buffalo Community Center, the Belle Center, Child and Adolescent Treatment Services and Boys and Girls Clubs.