There is a private high school in downtown Buffalo tucked inside a former Delaware Avenue mansion. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says The Buffalo Academy of Scholars is allowing students to customize their learning.
“Small, compact and easy to learn,” remarked Alex Gaughan, 11th grader.
Gaughan is one of just 12-students who attend the school. He came from the Hamburg school district, but tells us he felt lost in a large, public school setting and he struggled with reading and comprehension.
“It’s lifted me up because it’s not in an environment of 30-kids whereas you are really focused on what you need to do instead of being rushed and then not being taught the proper way,” Gaughan stated.
“I think we don’t let the kids slip through the cracks, so if they’re having trouble with something we can really spend a lot of time on it,” explained Stephen Kelly, social studies teacher.
Kelly said he likes the freedom of interacting with his students in the very small set. He does not want to deal with what he calls "educational bureaucracy".
“We do all kind of different assessments. I’ll have like, you know a pretty generic test and then also we do projects, but they’ve done projects on their own and then I decided to have them put all their minds together and do a group project together and see how they work together,” Kelly said.
Because the student population is so small, it’s a bit like home schooling where classes are in casual-style rooms and students are allowed to help establish learning material through their interests. Alan Hibbard is executive director at the Academy.
WBFO News asked about criticism that students could be home-schooled.
“Yeah, some people do say that, but I think the social aspect is so important,” responded Hibbard. “Socializing not only with other people your own age, as a 14-year-old, a 15-year-old and so on, but also people of a different age, like a teacher who might be ten years older or 15 years older, or a student that’s two or three years younger. It’s so important to see these different perspectives and social with people of mixed ages.”
However, like other area private schools, there is tuition. Hibbard said they charge $25,000 a year. That's a little higher than Nichols and The Park Schools.
“Who would you consider your competition?” asked Buckley. “That’s a good question and people asked about competition all the time and I’m a very competitive person, but I don’t like to think of competition when it comes to education because I don’t like to think of winning and losing, so competitors might be Nichols – a lot people say, which is actually my alma mater – and I love it dearly, some people say The Park School and some alternative, smaller schools are definitely competition as well, but if you look at where our students come from – they come from all types of schools – public, private, homeschooling environment,” replied Hibbard.
The school has attracted two students who were attending area private, catholic schools.
“So I came here and looked at this school during the middle of the year and loved it here. I like the one on one learning style,” said Max Sullivan of Buffalo, junior at the school.
Sullivan came from St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute.
“The work at St. Joe’s was a little tough for me and I couldn’t figure it out,” Sullivan remarked.
“What clicked for you here? What’s made a difference in your learning?” questioned Buckley. “Being able to ask more questions and not being afraid to ask like a question that people want to ask,” Sullivan answered.
Senior Nina Hart of West Falls came from Sacred Heart Academy in Amherst. She's graduating in just three years. She said she will be heading to college in the fall.
“I wanted some place that I could totally feel myself and get my school work done and get the best attention from teachers,” Hart said.
“It’s so much smaller and it’s so much more personal,” replied freshman Calah Hughes of Buffalo. She came from City Honors.
Hughes said she does not miss the city school system.
"It makes it easier to cater to my needs and stuff like that. My grades have really improved since I got here, like I was failing I think three classes before I came here – now I have like “B’s” and everything – I really like it,” declared Hughes.
The school follows the State's graduation requirements, but as a private school it has flexibility in academics, however, teachers are certified and have a master’s in education.
English teacher Jessica Coty is a former long-term substitute from the Sweet Home School District.
“I feel so nurturing in the sense we can constantly be helping and guiding them, encouraging them in a way that even if they make a mistake – it’s never ‘how dare you – you failed’ – I always give the students an opportunity to try again and I’ve seen their writing and abilities to grow so much because of that,” Coty explained.
The school’s science teachers Alyssa Pauli and Matthew Lardo popped out of their sessions, explaining why they enjoy the small setting and freedom of learning for students.
“I thought that this was a much better fit because you can really get to know each student and you get to see all different sides of them. You don’t see them just in the classroom and it’s not one soul out of 30,” Pauli replied.
“I love the fact that I can sit down with a kid who is struggling and actually figure out what the problem – having that one on one approach really gives me a chance to isolate a problem and find a way to correct it,” Lardo said.
The school boasts one graduate so far, who is now attending college. But Buffalo Academy of Scholars Hibbard tells WBFO News he believes in two years from enrollment could grow to 45 to 50 students.