Month: September 2018

Students of Many Cultures See Themselves While Reading & Learning

As the Syracuse Academy of Science and Citizenship Charter School (SASCCS) concluded its first successful year of operation, there was much to be proud of: students received ample one-on-one attention, parental engagement thrived, and teachers and students came together to build a diverse learning community. Yet, something very essential was still missing.

“Literacy can’t be confined solely to the classroom,” said Tolga Hayali, superintendent of Science Academies of New York Charter Schools.  “Children need a shared space where they can explore their love of reading and access a variety of books.”

Hayali’s vision for SASCCS would not be complete until the children had a library of their own. While many could see the absence of a library as a limitation, Hayali recognized the situation as a great opportunity to design a unique, culturally responsive literacy program that reflected the needs and backgrounds of the student body.

Nearly fifteen percent of SASCCS students are English language learners. A medley of languages floats through the hallways, ranging from Swahili to Spanish to Myanmar Matu. And many students do not hear English when they return home after school. While this can add to the challenge of grasping English literacy skills, Hayali wanted to honor all cultures through the library’s new offerings.  Hayali hopes that by being able to relate to the subjects in the new library’s books, students will have an easier time developing a genuine love for reading.

“Representation in literature matters. We want all students to feel comfortable and welcome at our library,” said Hayali. “This is a safe space where both teachers and students can learn from one another’s backgrounds.”

Having a student-centered school structure is one of SASCCS’s six key elements. The new library, which was completed over the summer, helps teachers adhere to this mission by providing lessons that are closely related to students’ backgrounds and daily lived experiences.

The majority of the students at SASCCS belong to minority groups and close to 80% of students receive free or reduced lunch. SASCCS recognizes the important role education plays in overcoming poverty and views literacy as the foundation of any successful education.

According to CNY Vitals, 9,880 Syracuse residents were reported as speaking English less than very well in 2015. Hayali recognized that due to limited English skills, many parents may not have books at home for their children nor have the ability to read with them.  Take-home books allow children to practice reading out loud to their guardian.

“Bringing books into the homes is key,” said Hayali. “The children become literacy ambassadors to their parents.”

The shared time together helps children develop positive relationships through reading, and can even help guardians learn alongside their children.

Charter schools are tuition free and open to all students, just like traditional public schools. They too must meet state and federal academic standards. However, what makes charter schools unique is the ability to be flexible when designing academic programs, curriculums, standards and goals. As a result of this increased range of possibility, charter schools are held to higher performance standards and can be shut down if the standards are not met.

Students of SASCCS are chosen through a blind lottery process, with preference given to English language learners and students who reside in the Syracuse City School District. SASCCS is publicly funded by local, state and federal tax dollars on a per pupil basis. However, fundraising is still vital to SASCCS because for every student that attends SASCCS, a portion of the per-student-funding is still given to the traditional public school that the child would have otherwise been enrolled in.

“We value all schools and all children,” explained Hayali, “We support our Syracuse City School District, Parochial schools and any other since all of us are helping our Syracuse area children who will come back as contributing and caring citizens of this larger and wonderful community.”

As the children of SASCCS embark upon their new school year, they will be met with many new opportunities to both celebrate their individuality and come together as a diverse community to learn from one another, thanks to the power of reading.

The Syracuse Academy of Science & Citizenship received a grant from the Central New York Community Foundation to assist with the construction of this new library. 


AEI Grants Addressing Poverty in Various Ways

The hardships and limitations faced by those living in poverty may be similar, but the road leading out of its grasp is unique for each individual. That is why the Alliance for Economic Inclusion (AEI) recently announced 22 nonprofit organizations as the recipients of $13.7 million in grants designated for CNY-based projects that approach the causes and outcomes of poverty in different ways. Over the span of five years, $30 million in total will be awarded to the region.

Here’s how a few of the grant recipients will be using the funding to spur economic opportunity, increase wealth and improve the quality of life within distressed communities.

Early Childhood Intervention

Early childhood is the most formative stage in a child’s education yet many children are not in center-based care programs that expose them to literacy skills. Therefore, the Early Childhood Alliance (ECA), in partnership with Catholic Charities of Onondaga County, will reach families its own way: through home visits. Soon, willing families living within the 13204 or 13205 zip codes – areas with some of the highest populations of people living below the poverty line – can participate in the Parent Child Home Program.  An AEI grant is helping launch the program, which will mentor parents to effectively support their child’s early learning.

“Most home visiting programs end once the child reaches a year or 18 months, leaving children vulnerable before Kindergarten starts,” says Laurie Black, ECA program director.  “The Parent-Child Home Program can help close the home visiting gap and ensure more children are ready for kindergarten.”

Increase High School Graduation Rates

This year, the Syracuse City School District’s graduation rate reached over 60%. While this demonstrates improvement, it is still behind the national average of 84%. However, Hillside Work Scholarship has developed a support program that produces graduation rates of 95% among its cohort of participants.  This is achieved through comprehensive afterschool programs, classroom visits, workforce training and college preparatory assistance for students in grades 8 – 12. A new AEI grant will help Hillside add an additional 150 at-risk 9th graders to the program.

“Poverty is a risk factor for 98% of our participants,” said Wayne O’Connor, Hillside executive director. “Graduating from high school is the first step in overcoming poverty and becoming a self-sufficient community member.”

When Having a Job Isn’t Enough

It’s traditionally thought that a job is the golden ticket out of poverty. However, securing a job requires more than just willpower and skills; a person needs safe, reliable transportation to ensure job stability.

“Many people succeed in finding a job but are still stuck if they don’t have the means to get there,” says Deborah Hundley, president of Providence Services.

The nonprofit used vans to establish a car-pool service to help fill that gap. Participants have been able to hold jobs and save enough money to buy cars of their own. An AEI grant will help Providence Services buy another van to expand its services.

Harness the Skills of our Refugee Community

Many children in Onondaga County are learning English as a new language, yet finding trained practitioners who have English language skills in addition to that of Arabic, Somali or Spanish is a challenge.  With support from an AEI grant, Partners in Learning, in partnership with Child Care Solutions, is establishing the Diversity in Early Educating and Care project to increase the number of culturally and linguistically diverse early childhood care practitioners in CNY. Expanding beyond English language training, the program supports participants through the processes of opening a family daycare or working in a center-based program and continuing their education.

“Skills sculpted through this program will help participants enter and advance in the career field of early childhood education,” says Theresa Pagano, program facilitator.

Since Syracuse has the highest amount of languages spoken in CNY, investing in the talents of refugees is essential in building childcare systems that can empower all children.

Empower Women and Minorities

“So many face joblessness and yet many employers that want to hire locally can’t because the CNY talent pool is lacking in software development,” said Jesse Peplinski, program organizer of Hack Upstate.

Through the support of an AEI grant, Hack Upstate established a 24-week coding boot camp for women and minorities from distressed communities. This is especially important because women disproportionally make up the face of poverty in all five CNY counties. Additionally, the highest concentrations of poverty are found in census tracks with high populations of immigrants, African Americans and Hispanics.  Participants will connect with local employers after their training, bolstering the local economy as the need to outsource jobs will decrease.

Workforce Development

Work Train’s community-based approach to workforce development serves two clients – the employer and our untapped local talent. The initiative partners with community-based and educational organizations to train and place individuals in the fields of health care and manufacturing, with more industries on the horizon. Its healthcare partnership, Health Train, has had tremendous impact since 2014, and with the support of AEI funding, is poised to significantly increase its impact in Onondaga, Cayuga, and Oswego counties.

“Work Train’s Health Train partnership seeks to connect unemployed and under-employed individuals with opportunities to enter and advance in the field of healthcare, filling critical workforce gaps in the regional Healthcare industry,” said Karen Kaplan, director of Work Train.

The AEI grant will support Health Train’s continued growth and success in in Syracuse, expansion in Auburn and a launch in Oswego. The AEI grant will also support Work Train’s 2019 efforts to launch a Tech industry-training program located within Onondaga County.

All of the AEI grants aim to create economic prosperity by utilizing the region’s existing assets. Each of the organizations supported has recognized that underneath the hardships that have befallen the region, there is great potential for permanent success. The programs work to build a healthy Central New York community by confronting the root causes of poverty through creating new career pathways, attracting quality jobs to distressed communities, building tools for educational advancement, or growing entrepreneurship in underserved communities.

View all of the grants:

To learn more about the AEI, please visit: