A unique partnership has unfolded between the University at Buffalo and Lafayette High School. The Buffalo Partnership Project: A Common Core Collaborative is generating new learning methods for teachers as they instruct many of the refugee and immigrant students at Lafayette. In this Focus on Education report, WBFO's Eileen Buckley explores how this effort is aiding one of the city's six failing schools.
Imagine trying to take a standardized test under the new common core learning rigors -without understanding the English language.
"How difficult is it to take some of the tests?," asked Buckley. "It's difficult because English is not my first language. I mean I really want the Common Core -- it's difficult for us -- English is our second language," said Hodan Ahmed. Ahmed arrived two years ago from Somalia. She's a junior at Lafayette. Ahmed said it's been tough to learn English, but she's happy to be at U.S. school as her family left behind a war-torn country. Her favorite subject is global studies and now the Buffalo Partnership Program -- or BPP for short -- is helping in making gains in all her classes.
"They're really helped me throughout the high school," said Ahmed. "Do you see the other students struggling to?," asked Buckley. "Yeah they are -- but they get a lot of help," noted Ahmed.
"They come here with a lot of knowledge." They need time to meet the standards in addition to what they already bring to the table," said Fenice Boyd, University at Buffalo professor with UB's Graduate School of Education.
Fenice worked to capture a three-year, $600,000 state grant to establish this project. This program is now entering its third year of the grant. There are four goals: Common Core, language, culture and integration of technology for teaching and learning.
"The other piece is that we have a consultant who has a background in ESL, who's been providing the coaches with some strategies to the teachers and the students to be able to meet the standards," said Boyd.
This partnership provides three UB coaches who work at Lafayette four days a week -- side-by-side -- with teachers. They help navigate a huge international population, where students are speaking up to 40-different languages.
"I'm truly excited about having the opportunity of having a real partnership and linking connection with a university," said Naomi Cerre, principal at Lafayette.
Cerre is thrilled with this partnership. It actually provides professional development while on-the-job. Principal Cerre's school has been under fire as a failing school, but she noted they are working diligently toward English Immersion Programs as part of its turn-around effort.
"In the last three months or show we have evolved as a school," noted Cerre.
Cerre said at her school it's never been about avoiding the Common Core. But instead being practical for a student's dignity in learning the English language. UB experts are the right support in coaching Lafayette teachers.
"But it also links us to the fact that there is a linguists department and research. UB is a research university and they have been so open and willing to provide us with that level of support," said Cerre.
One of the key components of Common Core is the emphasis on language arts.
"You can take a student from where they are and given them sentence frames to work with and help them with the vocabulary the have. use a lot of visuals and pictures," said Lisa Roof, UB Instructional Coach. Roof works to assist the teachers through several strategies in aiding students in learning English.
"I think one of the hardest parts for the teachers is to help the students to have opportunities to talk in the classroom," said Roof.
"The UB BPP collaborative has been so adaptable to this particular population and to the framework they've been presented with," said Daniel Murtha, ESL coach at Lafayette. The UB coaches help him adapt his work with the other school teachers.
"For the teacher -- the biggest, single struggle is time. They don't have time to teach all this material," said Murtha. "You have to learn the history of the world in two years."
"It’s daunting. I think some of the students feel a little overwhelmed with what they are required to do," said Robert Johnson, ESL and ELA teacher at Lafayette. Teachers meet with their UB coaches weekly.
"They bring a camera in and an iPad into each of the classes and they will videotape the class, and take out take bits and pieces of it and email us, asks us for reflections about certain points of the videotaped lesson," said Johnson.
In the final few weeks of the school year Lafayette's hall ways were filled with students changing classes as they prepared for regents exams which began Tuesday. Some students were also finalizing their project for an iPad expo. it's where they showcased their work from the BPP collaborative publicly. in the school auditorium we found Miyga Miyga -- a second year high school student at Lafayette, who is from Sudan. Miyga was rehearsing his presentation.
"I lived here for five years now," said Miyga.
The partnership collaborative is providing a three-way learning experience; Lafayette teachers receiving coaching, students learning in new ways, and at the same time UB coaches saw, firsthand, classroom challenges they in turn can take back to the university to assist in training future teachers.