Longer school days, longer year, and you

5:35 PM, Nov 6, 2012   |  
Bruce Pollock
Bruce Pollock

Recently, Rochester City School District Superintendent Bolgen Vargas announced that three Rochester schools would pilot an initiative to extend school days and the school year to promote learning and greater academic achievement. This initiative recognizes that many Rochester students are lagging behind and they need more time and support to excel in school. What else do Rochester students need to succeed?

Each young person has three schools in his or her life: home, the community and public school. The first school, home, is the most important. More than any other, it provides the norms, expectations and support structure for a child to succeed in school. A child spends more time in this first school than all others.

We all know that the home environment in Rochester is very challenged by intense, concentrated poverty in which almost half of the families have single female heads of household. Low adult literacy is widespread. Familial college-graduated role models are scarce. Many of the children in Rochester are not as prepared to start kindergarten as are children in the suburbs. During their school years, many Rochester students don’t have the home support they need with homework and school projects.

The second school is the community. Some aspects of the Rochester community are very beneficial: churches, recreation centers, youth services, etc. However, Rochester and all other cities across America also have “the street." The street culture includes homelessness, unemployment, violence, gangs and drugs.

Kids in Rochester get a lot of mixed messages from the community. Where I grew up, the community expectation was that everyone graduated from high school. Everyone went to college. That was the norm. That was the expectation. Education was the path to success. This isn’t the culture in Rochester today. The Rochester community needs to emphasize this vision and provide adequate support so kids in the city stay on this pathway to success.

The third school is the public school. This is the school that gets the most focus and criticism. It’s supposed to fill all the deficits from the first two schools: home and the community. Teachers get blamed when students don’t achieve. The school system gets blamed for incompetence and worse.

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In my experience, Rochester teachers are dedicated professionals who care about their students and their achievement. But their task is too great because the first two schools in Rochester are not strong. Teachers need our support, not our criticism.

My organization, Friends of Educational Excellence (FREE) Partnerships, supports teachers by providing volunteer tutors during the school day who help students with reading, writing and math under the guidance of classroom teachers. This is the kind of support teachers need. Despite the deficits of the first two schools, I’ve seen Rochester public schools succeed with the right community support. With a dedicated community partnership, School 52 is No. 2 in reading and No. 3 in math out of 38 elementary schools in the city!

After years of working with students in Rochester, I realize that they need three fundamental things to succeed in school: hope, faith and love. Hope for their future. Faith that education is the path that leads to a happy life. Love from caring adults that support them as they grow and learn.

Rochester children need our support so they believe in themselves and their future. FREE Partnerships provides caring, supportive adult volunteers who tutor kids in school during the school day so they stay on the path to achieve their dreams.

Longer school days. Longer school year. What else do Rochester students need to excel in school? They need you. Become a positive influence in the life of a Rochester student. Volunteer tutors promote student resiliency so Rochester children become undroppable. Sign up to become a volunteer tutor via the FREE Partnerships website. Working together, we can create a culture of success in Rochester.

Bruce Pollock is executive director of Friends of Educational Excellence Partnerships.

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