The Center for Youth is expanding into the Buffalo area to provide social-emotional support programs to the Kenmore-Tonawanda School District, says Elaine Spaull, the agency's executive director.
"The Kenmore-Tonawanda School District, which is comprised of many excellent administrators and teachers, found they needed some triaging and some alternative support for their middle-school youth," she says. "Middle school is an age and stage that presents challenges, but if we can get them through that tough phase, we find that they are able to stay the course [to graduation]."
The center will provide its alternatives-to-suspension program in two of the district's middle schools, Franklin and Hoover. The program emphasizes keeping students in school during short-term suspensions.
The center will also provide crisis intervention and prevention at Kenmore Middle School.
All of the work focuses on reducing suspensions — something that has become imperative for many school districts, says Paul Clark, the center's director of school-based programs.
Clark says that crisis prevention has become extremely important to educators in recent years. Educators recognize that many students need extra support for emotional stability so that they can perform well academically, he says.
"The idea is to support students to foster the skills they need to help them make better choices," Clark says. "Everything we're doing is to help to keep them in school."
The center will hire three youth counselors to work collaboratively with the Ken-Ton district's counselors, social workers, and emotional support team, he says.
The Ken-Ton district is located in one of Buffalo's inner-ring suburbs and isn't usually associated with poverty or students with high needs. But Spaull says that there are big misperceptions about youth and families' social-emotional needs.
"We have an increased number of what we call stressed suburbs," she says. "The challenges facing our kids are not restricted to our cities, or struggles with poverty. These suburbs are facing changes in economic opportunities, too."
The expansion in the center's service area has been happening over the last three years, Spaull says, with many districts in the Rochester region seeking the agency's expertise and training. The center recently developed support programs for the Mt. Morris Central School District, for example.
Some of the center's school programs are ongoing. But in Ken-Ton's case, the center will train the district's staff members so that they can eventually assume full responsibility for the program. Ken-Ton has a two-year agreement with the center.
The center's expansion is the result of its continued work with the Rochester school district, Clark says. Educators and school administrators around the state are interested in the work the center's does in Rochester's schools, he says.
The Center for Youth was formed in 1971 by a group of Brighton teenagers who wanted a place where they could speak freely and receive emotional support. The agency has grown to provide a wide range of services that include emergency shelter for homeless youth, an alternative school called New Beginning, and a 24-hour crisis hotline.