It takes a village. To nurture and support a child from birth to adulthood often marked by graduation from high school and entering the imminent real world. In Buffalo, the public school graduation rate was only 49% and in 2012, the Say Yes to Education Buffalo chapter helped a village come together to support students.
Four years after its launch, public schools’ graduations rate jumped to 64% and continue to rise. In that same time, the postsecondary enrollment rate also increased by 8 percentage points. By those numbers alone, Say Yes Buffalo is already well on its way toward its vision that “every student can graduate high school and college when given the proper supports, resources, and opportunities.”
Say Yes Buffalo’s tremendous successes are based in unprecedented city-wide partnerships. Say Yes brings together both public and private groups, including (but not limited to) the Buffalo Public School District, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, the City of Buffalo, Erie County, parents, administrators, corporations, and non-profits.
Say Yes is most publicly known for its incredible scholarship program, which provides a college tuition scholarship to any Buffalo public or charter school graduate, regardless of income. Since its creation [or establishment], more than 4,000 Buffalo students have gone to college with a Say Yes scholarship, which connects them to in-state public institutions as well as a selection of private colleges around the country.
These scholarships are a vital part of Say Yes’s work – but as Emily Wyckoff, Development Director for the Buffalo chapter, points out, “Say Yes is so much more than a scholarship. It’s a transformational initiative. [The scholarship program] is backed up by all of this programming, these wrap-around supports that are critical to the students’ success.”
Such supports are all based on a holistic vision of education, which recognizes that students and their families must be supported in many ways for children to succeed. Based on feedback from school administrators, teachers, and parents, Say Yes has already implemented multi-faceted programming to address all levels of student well-being. For example, they have placed a full-time family support specialist in each of the 55 public school buildings to assist with a variety of student needs. They’ve coordinated mental health clinics, mobile health units, and free legal clinics to students and families. In addition, they run after-school programs, summer camps, community schools, and mentoring and internship programs for college students.
Say Yes’s many programs are supported by investments from both public and private stakeholders, including Rich Products. In the past few years, the partnership between Rich Products and Say Yes has expanded. In addition to being a major donor to the Say Yes Buffalo scholarship fund, Rich’s has also served as a key partner in the mentorship program, provided summer internship opportunities for college scholars, and shared its atrium with Say Yes for special events.
For members of both Say Yes and Rich Products, the partnership fostered over the years comes down to shared values of family, education, and leadership. Shelby Connors, a Say Yes scholar at the University of Buffalo and one of Rich’s summer 2017 interns, shared that at Rich’s she has truly felt “like family.” And Kara Burke, a Rich’s associate and Say Yes mentor, values Say Yes because of its holistic approach, which she knows “takes the support of the entire community.”
Photo courtesy of Say Yes Buffalo