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WASHINGTON – Buffalo’s public schools and Say Yes to Education are partnering in an effort to dramatically bolster after-school programs at half of the city’s 56 schools this fall, transforming the sessions from mere help on homework to a comprehensive extension of the school day aimed at ensuring each student’s educational success.

Say Yes Buffalo announced its involvement in the program at a news conference on Capitol Hill where the organization – which aims to pay for college for underprivileged city school graduates – unveiled a four-year, $4.5 million grant from the Wallace Foundation. The money will be used, in part, to develop a system that tracks student progress.

Meanwhile, the Buffalo School District has assembled $14 million in funding, most of it through various grants, to put together the new after-school partnership with Say Yes this year.

The program, which covers kindergarten through 12th grade, will be expanded to 75 percent of city schools next year and to all of the city’s schools in 2015.

“The concept of the program this year is to meet the needs of our children so they’ll be more college – and career-ready – academically, socially and emotionally – while meeting the needs of parents who are working, who need that after-school care,” said Casandra Wright, chief of school leadership for the district.

Say Yes, a nationwide nonprofit organization, started its Buffalo operations in 2012 by offering full-tuition scholarships to qualified city students.

But Say Yes officials said their involvement in the after-school expansion fits perfectly with their organization’s mission.

“Say Yes is really about cradle to career,” said David P. Rust, executive director of Say Yes Buffalo. “We want to get to you early and see you through to college so that you succeed.”

The new after-school programs will be much like an extension of the school day, with extended learning programs combined with tutoring and hands-on learning.

“There will be a seamless transition from the daytime school component to the after-school component, and that is new,” Wright said.

For example, Rust said: “If you’re learning about the ecosystem in science class, you will be growing tomatoes and carrots after school in the garden.”

Principals will design the new after-school programs to fit their student populations, and Say Yes will provide facilitators at each school to ease the transition from official classroom time to the after-school efforts.

But that’s only part of the reinvented after-school program. Leadership skills, public speaking, diversity training and recreation also could be included, Wright said.

Meanwhile, high school students will find help available for preparing for their SAT or ACT exams.

In other words, it’s a total reinvention of the current after-school programs, which mostly entail homework assistance and which are not available to all students.

“These are two- to three-hour extended school day programs, at no cost to participants, with transportation home provided,” Rust added.

What’s more, the city’s summer school programs will be remodeled along the same lines starting next year.

And Say Yes will be monitoring student progress through it all. With the aid of the Wallace grant – which also will fund professional development and communications efforts – Say Yes Buffalo will design a student-monitoring system that looks not just at grades, but at everything that can be used to measure each student’s progress.

“The student management system is the first of its kind in the country,” Rust said. “It’s very comprehensive,” tracking student progress in the after-school programs, as well as during the school day.

Alphonso O’Neil-White, former president of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York and a key figure in bringing the Say Yes program to Buffalo, said the expansion into city school operations is a cooperative effort that has involved the schools, the teachers union, principals and other interested parties.

Such community support and cooperation is unprecedented, O’Neil-White said.

“I haven’t seen anything like it anywhere,” he added. “I think it’s the only way we’re going to get any reform in this district.”

Rust said the after-school programs will launch in half of the district’s schools in November. Those schools are: School 81, Bennett High School, Bennett Park Montessori, Bilingual Center 33, Dr. George Blackman Early Childhood Center, D’Youville Porter Campus School, East High School, Emerson School of Hospitality, Early Childhood Center 17, International Prep, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Institute, Native American Magnet and Frederick Law Olmsted School 156.

Also: the Academy School, Buffalo Elementary School of Technology, Community School 53, Discovery School 67, Early Childhood Center 82, Highgate Heights Elementary, Hillery Park Elementary, Hutch-Tech, McKinley High School, Frederick Law Olmsted School 64, Southside Elementary, Waterfront Elementary, West Hertel Academy and Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence.

In addition to announcing the grant to the Buffalo program, Say Yes announced that 11 additional private colleges and universities have joined the organization’s Higher Education Compact, which offers free tuition to eligible students.

The 11 new institutions are Cornell University, Hamilton College, Paul Smith’s College, Dartmouth College, Princeton University, Rice University, Pomona College, Denison University, Rhodes College, the University of the South and Vanderbilt University.

The addition of the new schools brings the number of institutions offering free tuition under Say Yes to 54. Local institutions that take part include Medaille College, Villa Maria College, Daemen College, D’Youville College, Hilbert College, Canisius College, Trocaire College and St. Bonaventure University.

Seventy-four colleges and universities in the State University of New York and City University of New York systems also participate.

News Staff Reporter Mary B. Pasciak contributed to this report. email: jzremski@buffnews.com