Category: Uncategorized

Census 2020: Challenges Ahead for CNY

January 17, 2019 – The U.S. Census is the most ambitious civic engagement effort undertaken by the entire country. Since 1790, the decennial census takes on the enormous task of counting every living United States resident with the mandate of inclusion of all people across gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship and socioeconomic status. The undertaking is so crucial that it’s included in the Constitution and is the cornerstone of how we gauge how our country is changing over time.

The Federal Government is set to distribute $675 billion to state governments based on the 2020 Census. The vast amount of data collected will ultimately help with equitable distribution of these public funds for vital community programs and resources toward housing, education, transportation, health and human services. Census data also informs lawmakers on policy decisions that impact the lives of 330 million Americans and impacts reapportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Not accounting for every individual living in our region could have a devastating impact on Central New Yorkers for years to come.

Heading into 2020, serious factors threaten our country’s ability to produce an accurate and equitable census count. Undercounting most affects communities of color, low-income neighborhoods and immigrant populations. This disparity deprives underserved communities of political power, government resources and private sector investment, according to New York Counts 2020, a statewide coalition working to ensure that all New Yorkers can fully maximize their Census participation.

The Digital Divide is another factor that may hinder responses. For the first time, the Census Bureau is primarily collecting responses using an online system. While online collection aims to lower costs and improve participation, New York Counts 2020 says it is unlikely to benefit groups already undercounted. Internet access has long been uneven between densely populated and rural areas across the country, as well as limited in low income urban neighborhoods. Households with no computer or adequate internet access are therefore at serious risk of being undercounted in 2020.

In addition, the potential inclusion of a U.S. citizenship question in the 2020 Census is igniting fears that it will fuel an undercount among both undocumented and legal immigrants.

This past fall, the Central New York Community Foundation surveyed 20 direct service providers working in the fields of education, housing, poverty relief, advocacy, new American support, violence prevention, disabilities and policy reform within the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County. All work with populations that have historically been underrepresented in Census counts.

Half of the respondents indicated that the majority of their clients do not understand the importance of completing the census; however, half also reported that their organizations were either somewhat or not very familiar with the Census. This suggests a need for education efforts among community organizations. Nearly 90 percent of the respondents believed that language barriers pose a challenge to completion of the census in Syracuse while 84 percent noted lack of information about the value of the Census and fear (68 percent) as contributing factors.

Recognizing how important it is to collect comprehensive and accurate data in 2020, the Community Foundation has already begun work to ensure as many people as possible are counted in Central New York’s hardest-to-count neighborhoods.

Tomorrow’s Neighborhood Today (TNT), a citizen-led group that represents all sectors of Syracuse, received a $20,000 grant to educate city residents on the importance of completing the Census. The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) received a $10,000 grant to support the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) process, which is a once-a-decade opportunity for governments to add, correct or delete addresses on the lists and maps used to conduct the Census.

“Census data directly impacts the Community Foundation’s work, making it critical to us that it be as accurate as possible,” said Robyn Smith, program officer, community engagement. “We rely on the Census to inform CNY Vitals, grantmaking, and initiatives. The Census is also important to the city and county governments across our region. It is estimated that for every one person not counted, communities lose approximately $2,000 in funding per year toward critical programs. “

The Community Foundation, along with many community partners, will be focusing attention this upcoming year on encouraging a complete count in our region. Central New York’s future depends on it.

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Community Needs Assessment Shines Light on Poverty Needs

November 27, 2018 – The initial results of a new community assessment led by the Central New York Community Foundation are identifying which life needs are not being adequately met for those living in poverty.

The year-long collaborative evaluation identified affordable long-term housing, addiction, lead poisoning, job readiness, and economic independence among the greatest concerns of more than 1,500 respondents currently being served by Syracuse-based human service agencies.

The assessment is a new focus of the Community Foundation’s Performance Management Learning Community (PMLC) initiative, now entering its seventh year. PMLC uses grant dollars and peer learning to help nonprofits measure their effectiveness.

The Syracuse Northeast Community Center, a PMLC participant for the past year, is using its assessment results to inform its basic needs programming. The Center serves those living in Syracuse’s Northeast quadrant, where many neighborhoods are characterized by a high incidence of poverty, crime, poor housing and unemployment.

Patty Sullivan, director of programs at the Center, says her organization surveyed 100 clients in its first year in the program. Over one-third of its clients reported they could not afford long-term housing. More than 50 percent of respondents said they did not have access to quality childcare. And 52 percent felt they did not have the skills needed to get the kind of jobs they want. The Center plans to continue surveying clients during its second year participating in PMLC.

“The needs assessment supported our Crisis Matrix, which looks at the underlying issues that prevent a person from moving toward self-sufficiency,” said Sullivan. “For instance, we look at underlying issues such as child care, transportation and mental health and address those first before helping an individual obtain employment.”

Sullivan’s collection was unique to the neighborhoods the Center serves, but most were in alignment with the needs surveyed city-wide. Across the 14 agencies that participated in the first year of data collection, most of whom serve residents in poverty, common themes among their clients were present: 28 percent reported not having access to affordable, long-term housing; nearly 30 percent said they did not have enough money to pay for housing and food without government support; 25 percent felt they did not have proper job skills; 27 percent reported having addiction problems within the last year; and 30 percent reported their home has not been tested for lead.

This year, eight organizations will be receiving a total of nearly $150,000 in PMLC grants. Each will add to the needs assessment findings as members of the incoming class: Center for Community Alternatives ($20,000), Clear Path for Veterans ($20,000), Everson Museum of Art ($15,147), On Point for College ($20,000), PEACE, Inc. ($19,058), Syracuse Northeast Community Center ($19,887), Women’s Opportunity Center ($20,000), and Worker’s Center of Central New York ($15,000).

Each organization will utilize its grant dollars to measure how effectively they are accomplishing their missions. Applicants also each had to agree to intake 100 new respondents to the survey and participate in a year-long learning community in order to qualify for a grant.

The Community Foundation awards PMLC grants toward data measuring efforts, which include such things as database management and statistical analysis, to help nonprofits track their efforts and look for trends. This in turn assists the organizations in identifying what is working and what’s not, leading to the development of more effective programming and funding competitiveness.

“PMLC helps organizations with continuous improvement—this translates into first class services for those who live in our communities,” said Frank Ridzi, vice president, community investment at the Community Foundation. “Data can have a profound effect on a nonprofit organization’s ability to share the story of its impact on the community.”

This is the second year that the PMLC class is comprised primarily of organizations that serve residents in poverty and are focusing their measurements on poverty-related outcomes.

For organizations like Syracuse Northeast Community Center, PMLC is changing the way they look at what they do. Sullivan reports that they are currently planning a Community Day, which will bring in agencies that provide services toward the greatest needs reported in their clients’ assessments.

“We ultimately want to help individuals move towards self-sufficiency,” said Sullivan. “We are able to do that based on the results of the assessment. Being better able to meet the needs of the community members that we serve has been huge.”

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The Central New York Community Foundation was established in 1927 to serve as a permanent community endowment built by the gifts and charitable legacies of individuals, families and businesses for the betterment of the region. It is the largest charitable foundation in Central New York with assets of more than $272 million. It has invested more than $190 million in community improvement projects since its inception. As a grantmaker, civic leader, convener and sponsor of special initiatives, the Community Foundation strives to strengthen local nonprofits, encourage better understanding of the region and address the most critical issues of our time.  Its vision is to create a vibrant Central New York community that provides opportunity for everyone and builds a hopeful, prosperous region for future generations.

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Summer Learning: Filling the Gaps

When the school year ends, children in high-poverty environments often lose the opportunity to benefit from healthy food and safe places to spend their days. And their social and economic situations often provide few occasions where they can continue their learning. The cumulative effect is a crisis in the making: students lose an average of more than two months in reading achievement in the summer. By the fifth grade, this aforementioned “summer learning loss” can leave low-income students up to three years behind their peers.

But there is some hopeful news. Elementary school students who regularly attend voluntary summer learning programs experience continued progress in both math and reading. In fact, studies show that six-week summer learning programs can lead to significant gains in reading performance.

Summer learning loss is common in all regions of Central New York, but it is prevalent in many of Syracuse’s city neighborhoods where educational opportunities outside of school are less accessible. Many children live in single-parent and low-income households, which can mean that limited time and resources are available to continue learning during the summer months.

One of the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods is the Southside’s Census Tract 52. Here, unemployment and public assistance benefits are above average and educational success is limited. The summer learning option for this neighborhood – McKinley-Brighton Summer School – has been known to offer morning classes Monday through Friday from early July to early August. While this was a great opportunity for students, it resulted in vacant afternoons and dates in June and August when students would not be engaged in learning opportunities.

In partnership with the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County, the Central New York Community Foundation sought to resolve engagement gaps by providing wrap-around support and incentives for students attending the McKinley-Brighton Summer School.  A series of field trips including visits to a horse barn, Mercy Mountain’s ropes course and the Rosamond Gifford Zoo enticed students to attend and facilitated community engagement.  A survey of 4th and 5th grade attendees reported that field trips were ranked “The best part of the summer program,” followed closely by rocket launching, an onsite activity.

Behind all of the summer fun were substantial learning opportunities, keeping both parents and children satisfied. Forty-five percent of parents that participated in the survey valued academic preparation as their favorite aspect of the program. Many of the students that were surveyed reported that Science, Math, and Engineering were topics covered in the program that were new to them. Introducing new skills not only prevented summer learning loss but actually cultivated their academic advancement.

With summer comes lots of idle time and many parents looked to the McKinley-Brighton Summer School program as a safe space for children to play, learn and stay positively engaged. This was especially beneficial for the number of high risk students enrolled in the program. For many parents, this was the first summer support program that they utilized for their child. Eighty-four percent of surveyed parents said that their child attended the program every day.

By filling in the gaps in the old program and providing wrap-around services, McKinley-Brighton was able to increase its average daily attendance from 51.53% in 2017 to 66.81% in 2018, therefore curbing the disadvantaged state that many students slip into over the summer. By participating in continued learning opportunities in the summer, students were able to return to their new classrooms ready to learn.

 

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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. 

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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: https://www.scribd.com/document/380991209/CNY-anti-poverty-grants#from_embed

To learn more about the AEI, please visit: http://ow.ly/O71W30lhP2a

 

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Local Group Encouraging Adult Residents to Learn for Advancement

Nearly 5,000 Onondaga County residents each year participate in adult education, which includes English-as-second-language, high school equivalency and secondary school completion services. Yet this is only a small fraction of the population that needs help, according to Mark Cass, executive director of North Side Learning Center.

“These services are only reaching 15 percent of the adults in our community in need of stronger literacy skills,” said Cass.

Limited education holds people back from employment opportunities and achieving healthy incomes. Specifically, having limited proficiency in English can make tasks such as accessing healthcare, getting groceries and obtaining rewarding employment seem like unconquerable obstacles.

It is estimated that 60,000 adults in Onondaga County are in need of greater literacy skills.  According to CNY Vitals, more than 17,000 people speak English less than very well and 3,500 county residents report never having completed any schooling while more than 5,000 report reaching the 12th grade but failing to receive a diploma.

In response to this community need, the Adult Education Roundtable (AER), a collaboration of local education institutions, has launched an awareness campaign to recruit students and volunteers.

“This campaign is not for the benefit of one program,” said Kelli Cooney, campaign manager. “It’s about exposing people to the many opportunities for learning that this community has to offer. We want people to find the program best suited for their needs.”

Potential students can call 1-800-READ or visit www.CNYLearns.org to have their needs assessed. Then, AER pairs them with the service best fit for their needs. English proficiency, personal goals and neighborhood of residence are all taken into consideration.

The campaign aims to show potential students that it’s possible to overcome the barriers that have long delayed their educational advancement.

“Sometimes, a person’s own life circumstances prove to be the biggest obstacle,” said Cooney. “Juggling concerns about work, children, transportation, housing and health is enough to make many adults move their own literacy needs to the bottom of their priority list.”

Recognizing this, AER organizations offer classes during daytime and nighttime hours; the classes are held in a variety of neighborhoods and spaces.

But at the crux of the campaign lies a challenge: How can information about literacy be distributed to a population that may be illiterate or has very limited literacy skills?

AER has risen to this challenge by filling its calendar with appearances at community events, stressing the importance of face-to-face engagement.  It’s important to the AER that the campaign is present at events parents will already be attending with their children, such as Summer Learning Day at Destiny USA, the Near Westside Block Party and the Westcott Street Cultural Fair.

Additionally, city residents will soon see the campaign’s advertisements rounding their own neighborhood street corners; Centro busses will sport AER’s advertisements on their exteriors and interiors.  The ever-changing routes will expose significantly more people to the campaign than AER could on its own. Going into the campaign, AER recognized that their students typically relied on the bus as a major means of reliable transportation.

“We knew having a presence on busses meant we could reach our target audience,” said Cooney. “But until this collaborative campaign, no individual AER organization could afford these ads.”

AER is an action team of the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County that includes OCM-BOCES, Syracuse City School District Adult Education, SUNY Syracuse Educational Opportunity Center, Literacy CNY, North Side Learning Center, the adult literacy program of Onondaga County Public Library, Syracuse University’s University College, Onondaga Community College, and others.  The organizations have been collaborating for the past several years but this marks their first collaborative public relations campaign. They hope to recruit 400 new adult students.

The CNY Community Foundation awarded AER a grant to support the awareness campaign, matching a contribution from the Syracuse Rotary Fund.

“Funding from the Community Foundation makes the bus advertisements possible and we are so excited about this exposure,” said Cooney.

From 2009 to 2015, the number of people living in poverty in Onondaga County increased by 19 percent.  As poverty surges in Central New York, the hardships do not only exist on a personal level—the whole region suffers, so a commitment to adult literacy education is a commitment to the health of the entire Central New York community.  Adult education services, such as those provided by AER, give people the skills needed to break free of poverty’s cycle.

When one individual becomes empowered through education, ripples of positive change can travel through the whole community.  Through this awareness campaign, the Adult Education Roundtable hopes to turn these ripples into waves.

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Poverty in Central New York: It’s Not Just in Cities

Poverty is a pervasive reality for over 43 million Americans. Thoughts of poverty often bring to mind images of blight in cities, but it is also common in rural communities throughout the country. Mom-and-pop stores that once lined Main Streets in small towns are closing. Schools are being consolidated and asked to do more with less. At the same time, these communities watch their young people head to urban areas.

Here in Central New York, residents of Cayuga, Cortland, Oswego, and Madison counties, as well as rural Onondaga County, experience the everyday impacts of rural poverty. In Cayuga and Madison Counties, 12 percent of the total population was living below the federal poverty line in 2015, according to CNY Vitals. In Cortland County, that number was almost 15 percent, and Oswego County was even higher at almost 19 percent.

Rural poverty comes with challenges that are similar but distinct from that of its urban counterpart. Those living below the poverty line in outlying areas often lack reliable transportation and are usually out-of-reach for the public transit system. That can make getting to and from a job, school or doctor appointments especially challenging, leading to economic, educational and healthcare challenges.

There is a problem with the way we think about addressing rural poverty, according to Maribel Arce, director of community initiatives at Community Action Partnership of Madison County (CAP).

“Oftentimes the programs that are used for urban poverty are copied and pasted for rural communities,” said Arce. “But it’s a different story here. The challenges to get services to people in rural areas are very different.”

With a changing economy less focused in manufacturing and mining, rural economies and employment have taken a huge hit in recent decades. Rural areas still haven’t experienced the same kind of economic growth as urban areas since the Great Recession, with some residents arguing the downturn for them really hasn’t ended. In fact, non-metro high poverty regions have expanded in size and number since the Great Recession started turning around in 2011. Nationally, between 2011 and 2015, 71 non-metro counties were newly considered “high poverty,” according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s 2017 Rural America at a Glance report.

Another unique challenge that rural communities face is large drops in school enrollment due to population decline. According to a report by the New York State Association of School Business Officials, about half of New York’s school districts are rural, but only about 11 percent of students attend them. It also found that rural districts in Central New York all experienced a decline in student enrollment with some dropping as much as 20 percent. Population declines combined with a lower tax base within rural districts can lead to budget cuts in academic, athletic, and college readiness programs. These cuts have a direct impact on children’s readiness to enter higher education and the workforce.

Addressing rural poverty is difficult because there are big hurdles to overcome. Within Madison County, the regions with the highest poverty rates have few childcare centers. And there are no homeless shelters in the entire county. Arce says a long-term approach is needed to address poverty.

“Poverty is not solved in a year or three years,” she said. “It needs a lot of people addressing it, with institutions working together to make a difference.”

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Literacy Council Addressing Low Test Scores in Cortland County

In rural Cortland County, only 24% of third graders are testing proficiently on New York State English Language Arts exams. This is especially important because third grade marks a turning point in early education: at that time, children typically are expected to stop learning to read and begin reading to learn other subjects. To keep on track towards this goal, it is imperative that children enter Kindergarten ready to begin learning how to read. Unfortunately, all children do not enter school at the same level of readiness.

In 2017, only 56% of Cortland County children were deemed “ready” for Kindergarten when they entered school. If a child is not participating in a structured learning environment prior to school and their parents do not possess the resources or knowledge to prepare them, they enter with a disadvantage that will follow them year after year. But all hope is not lost. The Cortland County Literacy Council is setting out to break down barriers and help families create a lifestyle of learning for the region’s children.

Renee Marleau, community projects coordinator of Cortland Area Communities that Care, has been spearheading the Literacy Council since October 2017.

“There is an outstanding need for literacy work here,” she said. “Three-quarters of our students are not performing at grade level.”

Struggling with low literacy skills during early childhood is only the first obstacle in an uphill battle. Dropping out of high school is often not a sudden event; it is preceded by a cycle of failing to catch up and prolonged disengagement.

The Literacy Council, a partnership between Communities that Care, school districts county-wide and nonprofit agencies, was established to break this cycle and institute positive interventions in the lives of children. As if matching puzzle pieces, the groups joined together to determine how the long-talked-about need for literacy engagement could turn into tangible programs.

The school year has just come to an end, but Marleau is busy building a community where learning has no end date. The Literacy Council has several initiatives designed to prevent learning loss this summer. For the second year in a row, school districts are making summer school classes available to any interested student, not just those who need remediation. Additionally, its Books to Grow On program will distribute books to children aged 0-4 at their regular pediatric check-ups.

Two-thousand students also left school this year with a summer guide booklet brimming with tips for parents to encourage learning and an abundant list of free activities occurring at parks, museums and schools. Getting these resources into the hands of parents, guardians, or even babysitters is the first step in ensuring children will have opportunities to learn and practice the skills they obtained during the school year.

“Low literacy because is not an isolated problem,” said Robyn Smith, program officer at the Central New York Community Foundation. “It dramatically disadvantages people from partaking in employment and economic opportunities. An investment in early literacy intervention sees its returns in a thriving community for future generations.”

Marleau hopes that other counties struggling with literacy problems can look to Cortland’s Literacy Council as a source of inspiration for engaging with hard-to-reach populations. Since conventional tactics like workshops are not convenient for people spread across Cortland County’s wide geography, they must institute creative solutions. This summer, the Literacy Council will encourage teachable moments through activity posters tactfully hung throughout the community.

Besides creativity, Marleau discovered this problem must also be met with patience. For lasting impact, initiatives cannot rely on a one-and-done mentality.

“Everything we do is a long-term solution,” said Marleau. “We have considered who is involved in a child’s life and found the simplest things they can do each and every day to impact the child’s learning right there in the moment.”

The Cortland County Literacy Council is making literacy engagement a permanent lifestyle for Central New York children. Its efforts are sure to impact our region for the better.

To support or get in involved with the Cortland County Literacy Council, visit: https://www.cortlandareactc.org/

The Central New York Community Foundation supports the Cortland County Literacy Council through grant funding, which recently made the mass production of print materials possible. Through administrative support, the Community Foundation helps to ensure the Literacy Council is meeting all initiative objectives. Additionally, this relationship has linked the Literacy Council to organizations in other communities serving similar needs.

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Children Learn to Make Healthy Eating Decisions

Each week during the school year, children aged 10 to 14 gather at Syracuse Academy of Science High School to take part in Saturday Academy, an innovative program run by the 100 Black Men of Syracuse. The students receive lessons and take part in fun activities designed to help them do better in school, learn leadership skills and feel empowered.  Now, the students are also learning healthy food and nutrition habits and developing a love of cooking through a new health and wellness initiative.

The lessons can vary, but all are designed to address the health needs of local residents, especially those that disproportionately affect minorities. One recent class focused on healthy drink alternatives such as switching out Gatorade and soda for healthier options. The lesson then turned to safe cooking. As a finale, the students prepared a meal for everyone at the Academy.

“We work on educating young people, from learning how to read food labels to going on bus trips to farms and the regional market,” said Ryan Beauford, 100 Black Men’s vice president of operations. “There they can see that milk doesn’t just show up in the refrigerator at the supermarket; there’s a supply chain.”

100 Black Men chose to implement the new lessons into its Saturday Academy because physical and mental health can significantly impact a child’s education. When children grow up with a lack of available healthy food, high rates of obesity tend to follow, which can lead to diseases like diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease.  According to the Association of Black Foundation Executives’ health and wellness report, black children have absenteeism rates three times higher than the rate of their peers, thus greatly affecting their learning and potential achievement.

According to CNY Vitals, over 16 percent of children and adolescents in Onondaga County were obese in 2012. In the Syracuse City School District specifically, 23.7 percent of students were obese, higher than the 17.3 percent New York State average.

100 Black of Men received a grant from the Central New York Community Foundation to implement its new health and wellness program. Since its launch, it has surpassed its targeted attendance numbers. To deliver the comprehensive lessons, the organization partners with the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s SNAP-Ed program, which is one of the nutrition education and events administers of the Eat Smart New York campaign.

Since 2006, 100 Black Men of Syracuse has focused on mentorship and empowerment in the Syracuse community. In addition to its health and wellness program, 100 Black Men also offers SAT prep classes, historically black college and university tours, economic empowerment workshops and an annual walk for wellness and stroke prevention.

Charles Anderson, chairman of 100 Black Men’s Health and Wellness Committee, stressed the importance of talking about both physical and mental health issues: “When people know about the resources available to them, they can be healthier and feel a better sense of community.”

He says that if children are more aware of what’s healthy, they can have a positive impact on their parents. “We are reaching out to the community as a whole so that children and adults can get the information and pass it on to others, be it family or otherwise.”

To learn more about 100 Black Men of Syracuse, visit 100blackmensyr.org.

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How the History of Redlining and I-81 Contributed to Syracuse Poverty

Syracuse is no exception to the consequences of the past. The city ranks number one in the nation for concentrated poverty among Blacks and Latinos; and Onondaga County is the ninth most segregated county in America. 41,000 people in the city of Syracuse lived below the poverty line in 2016. The neighborhoods where this poverty is most prevalent can be directly linked back to the city’s history.

City Limits: A Poverty Project is a year-long podcast produced by WAER. Recently, City Limits examined how the construction of Interstate-81 affected the region.

In the late 1930s, policy makers were determined to not repeat the Great Depression. One effort concentrated on increasing homeownership in America. The concept was to provide federal-backed mortgage loans to those residents who they determined were most likely to maintain their payments.

Two criteria were set for federal mortgage qualifications: the condition of buildings and the racial makeup of an area in which someone lived. The racial makeup criterion discriminated against Black, Jewish and foreign-born people.

To visualize the criteria, the federal government created confidential residential security maps. Green colored areas meant residents could receive 100 percent backing and blue meant 85 percent. By contrast, yellow signified only 15 percent backing and red zero percent. This is how the term ‘redlining’ came to be.

The 1950s introduced more institutional discrimination. The 1956 Federal Highway Act was a major infrastructure bill meant to connect American cities through a network of highways. While the highways helped make traveling and commuting more efficient and convenient, it also divided American cities on a micro level. Highways were built only within yellow and redlined areas. This was the case in Syracuse upon the construction of Interstate-81 (I-81).

Richard Breeland, a Syracuse resident since he was two years old, lived in the 15th ward of Syracuse. The 15th ward was a hub of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. As a redlined neighborhood, it was demolished to construct I-81. Breeland told Kijin Higashibaba of WAER that the 15th ward was a homey, quiet and thriving neighborhood. City officials saw it differently.

“It was called Jew town, it was called the slum area, and it was called the ghetto. Those were the three names that were associated with our community,” Breeland said.

Redlining was banned in 1968 through the Fair Housing Act, but its ripple effects are still seen today. Comparing the 1937 residential security map of Syracuse against the 2012 maps of poverty and median household income, it is clear that yesteryear’s redlined neighborhoods are still rampant with hardship; the yellow and red designations match up congruently with the city’s highest rates of poverty and lowest median incomes.

Cities grow and thrive through investment and development, and some critics argue I-81 makes progress extremely difficult for Syracuse.

I-81 was declared to have outlived its useful life as of late 2017. Many people in the city of Syracuse see tearing down the portion of I-81 that runs through the city as an opportunity. Their solution entails replacing the 1.4 mile stretch of the highway that runs through the middle of the city with a street level community grid.  Community grid advocates argue that getting rid of the viaduct will offer new opportunities for taxable land, affordable housing, economic development, and environmental health. Opponents of the community grid argue that I-81 is a vital part of the economy and quick commutes are a major asset to the city.

Beyond justice and poverty, the I-81 viaduct decision may impact the entire region’s ability to prosper. Residents far and wide, businesses wishing to thrive, and even entire neighborhoods could be impacted by the decision.

Listen to the entire City Limits segments about I-81:

http://citylimitsproject.org/episodes/not-just-highway-how-interstate-81-contributed-poverty-syracuse
http://citylimitsproject.org/episodes/building-future-i-81-and-poverty-syracuse

Learn more about the I-81 viaduct and get involved:

https://www.dot.ny.gov/i81opportunities/getinvolved

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