As we close out the 2018 – 2019 school year, I have been reflecting on all of the programs the Niagara Falls City School District (NFCSD) has to give our students every opportunity to succeed and lead productive lives once their school days are over. Many of our pupils whose families are struggling financially need the helping hand and guidance we provide.
The poverty statistics for our school-aged children are alarming. Overall, 41% of students enrolled in the Niagara Falls City School District live at or below the poverty line. Fifty-five percent of our elementary students, 38.5% of our prep school students and 39.3% of our high school students are living in financially challenged households. It’s an uphill battle to break the cycle and lift these youths out of poverty.
We don’t shy away from that battle. We start with our youngest pupils – three-year-olds in pre-Kindergarten – and grow programs for them. In February we expanded our PreK 3 program at Niagara Street, Kalfas and GJ Mann elementary schools. Children from disadvantaged families are given first preference for enrollment to help them gain necessary school readiness skills they may not be exposed to in daily life. NFCSD preschool classes significantly decrease the achievement gap that can leave low-income children at a disadvantage.
The Reading Recovery Program is producing extraordinary results for our first graders who are having difficulty learning to read and write. Reading Recovery is provided for the lowest achieving students, English as a second language children, children with low language skills, poor motor coordination, or those lacking maturity and readiness skills. There are no exceptions – all students displaying these traits will become part of Reading Recovery. The program’s success has been exceptional. Students who could barely write letters leave the program writing full words and full sentences. An early start to success in education means an improved opportunity for these children to escape the cycle of poverty.
As our students mature, the District introduces programs to fight the poverty battle by training prep school students to work in the “real world.” The District’s very popular F-Bites program is run by Niagara Falls native Bobby Anderson who was a contestant on the TV show “Hell’s Kitchen.” He instills a strong work ethic in program participants as they learn culinary techniques that could lead to future employment. An astonishing 85% of participants who have graduated from F-Bites are employed or enrolled in higher education.
High school seniors will benefit from the District’s proposed Career and Technical Education (CTE) project-based learning experience. CTE provides internships and externships for hands on learning in the “real world” to create career and college ready students. CTE provides coursework and on-the-job training to develop skills that can lead to successful and lucrative jobs that do not require a college education. Participants who grew up in financially challenged households are prepared to work and they stand an excellent chance of climbing out of poverty.
We are not pleased with the number of NFCSD students who live in poverty. What we must do is take action. The programs mentioned here represent just a few of the creative solutions the District is developing to produce students who become contributing members of their families and society. Poverty is a problem we all need to address, whenever you can volunteer for a program, lend a helping hand and become part of our fight against poverty.