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News staff Reporter

Many believe that one way to transform the education system in Buffalo is to start with the youngest kids.

To that end, the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood has opened a Children’s Academy to start preparing kids as young as six-weeks-old to succeed academically.

The one-story, 12,000-square-foot building, located on Amherst Street and Bailey Avenue near the Westminster Community Charter School, will serve about 150 neighborhood children up to five years old.

“The sooner we intervene ... the higher the outcome for these kids,” said Robert Gioia, president and chief executive officer of the John R. Oishei Foundation, during a grand opening ceremony at the school on Friday morning.

The foundation was one of the primary funding sources for the $3.5 million project to construct the new Buffalo Promise Neighborhood Children’s Academy.

M&T Bank was another.

“Transforming an economically challenged neighborhood into one that can prosper begins by providing children with the opportunity to be successful in school,” said Robert G. Wilmers, M&T chairman and chief executive officer.

Founded in 2010, the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood initiative is a cradle-to-college approach that aims to improve the lives of children and families who are trying to break the grip of poverty.

The target area is part of the 14215 ZIP code roughly bounded by the University at Buffalo South Campus, Westminster Charter School and Bennett High School. It encompasses a 97-block area of approximately 12,000 residents, including 3,000 children under 18. The distressed community has high rates of poverty, crime, blight and teen pregnancy.

The initiative provides neighborhood resources, family services and educational support for children and is focused on transforming education, health care, housing and the business district.

Buffalo Promise Neighborhood programs are organized into four components, including School Transformation, in which the focus is on improving performance at three schools on the northeast side of Buffalo. They are Bennett High School, where the graduation rate is 35 percent, Wilmers said; Highgate Heights Elementary and Westminster Community Charter.

Programs that fall under the College/Career Connections initiative provide pre-collegiate and pre-career experiences starting in the middle-school grades.

The Family/Community Engagement component deals with programs that focus on quality-of-life issues and plans to deal with them.

And the new academy falls under the Early Foundations category. For it, Buffalo Promise Neighborhood coordinates services that focus on the education and needs of parents while supporting the healthy development of children as they prepare to enroll in kindergarten.

The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the HealthNow Healthy Living Fund also helped fund the project.

Other partner organizations are the Annie E. Casey Foundation, AmeriCorps, Belmont Housing Resources for Western New York, Bethel Head Start, Buffalo Urban League, Catholic Charities of Buffalo, Closing the Gap, College Success Center, College Summit, Community Health Center of Buffalo, Council for Unity, Every Person Influences Children, Erie Community College, Erie County, Hillside Work Scholarship Connection, Johns Hopkins University: Talent Development, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Read to Succeed, Say Yes to Education, U.S. departments of Education and Justice, United Way of Buffalo and Erie County and Westminster Foundation.

Others who participated in Friday’s ceremony included Rep. Brian Higgins, Mayor Byron W. Brown and Yvonne Minor-Ragan, president of Buffalo Promise Neighborhood.

email: dswilliams@buffnews.com