Buffalo State received a $349,631 grant from the New York State Education Department to fund the first year of its five-year Liberty Partnerships Program. Under Patrice Cathey, project director, the program is gearing up for its 2012–2013 programs.
"We’re especially pleased because we received the amount we requested, which few programs can say," said Cathey. Buffalo State’s program was, in 1988, the first in the state to be funded.
The program encourages high school students to stay in school, graduate, and go on to higher education by using a multi-pronged approach that includes SAT preparation, tutoring, counseling, mentoring, and presenting role models. "We want the kids to know what’s possible," said Cathey. "You can’t pursue something you can’t even imagine."
In recent years, efforts have focused on Tapestry Charter and McKinley High Schools. This year, the Liberty Partnerships Program will also use the Buffalo State Community Academic Center on Grant Street to offer community-based academic support to high school students.
Students who take advantage of Liberty Partnerships' programs achieve a 75 to 85 percent high-school graduation rate, which is substantially higher than that achieved by most state urban public school districts.
It's not easy work, according to Theresa Bonito, program coordinator and liaison to McKinley High School. "Many students work, or they take care of their brothers and sisters, so they can’t take part in after-school programs," she said. "So our tutors sometimes work right in the classroom, under the teacher's direction, to help students who are struggling." The tutors are Buffalo State students majoring in education. Liberty Partnerships also makes SAT trainers available to interested students.
At Tapestry, Liberty Partnerships founded the Fashion Etiquette Club, which introduces students to the fashion industry and helps them develop etiquette skills. Courtney Nelson, a certified school counselor with Liberty Partnerships, leads "Girl Talk" at Tapestry. "It gives the girls a chance to talk about what’s on their minds," said Nelson, who also serves as a role model. "We try to spark the kids to want more out of life."
That spark includes visits to many colleges, including Buffalo State and Canisius. To help that spark ignite, the Liberty Partnerships team introduces students to the federal student aid (FAFSA) website. "Now that it’s all online," said Cathey, "a lot of parents don’t have the internet skills to help their children." Liberty Partnerships also present FAFSA and financial aid workshops throughout the year for students and parents.
Bonito recently was creating miniposters, each defining a common college-application term such as "need-based" for display in schools. "On one tour here at Buffalo State," she said, "a high-schooler asked if college students are allowed to leave the residence hall over the weekend. That gives you an idea of how unfamiliar college life is to some of these students."
The staff tries to provide experiences that increase the students’ general knowledge and cultural competence. For example, when visitors attend Plantasia, Western New York’s annual garden and landscape show, they are looking at plants that are arranged, and sometimes even grown, by McKinley High students. “Working at Plantasia enhances what students learn in school,” said Cathey, "plus it increases knowledge and vocabulary. It’s all part of our effort to create a college-enrollment culture."