Category Archives: Rochester City School District

Ms. Lori’s experience at School 22

Ms. Lori is among the many great volunteers at School 22 in Rochester, giving about 2 hours every week to help several second-graders, and one third-grader, 1-on-1 with their reading.

The problem: Other students in the class come up to her. “Can you help me today?” they ask. She doesn’t have time to work 1-on-1 with everyone.

If only there were enough volunteers. Certainly many people aren’t available between 8 am and 4:15 pm (the school day and the after-school program time). But there may be false ideas that get in the way.

Adults may fear that they have to have a teaching background. They don’t.

They might think they need a lot of free time to help. But there are unfilled needs that are just 45 minutes a week.

They might wonder what it’s really like. So I’ve created a 2-minute video showing Ms. Lori’s experience at School 22.

To watch the video, click here.

To learn more about this community-school partnership, click here.


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Filed under Being grateful, Good news, Rochester City School District

Solving urban education

P1000741 If you saw a child drowning in a river in front of you, you’d rescue the child, right? And then if there was another, and another? For 25 years, my church (First Unitarian Church of Rochester) has been reaching out a hand to city school students who need help to succeed in school – and in life. It’s critical work and it makes a difference in children’s lives.

I’ve been wrestling with the root problem: How do you prevent children from winding up struggling in the river? You want to go upstream. Stop whoever is pushing youngsters in, or fix the weak place where they’re falling in. But I don’t see one cause of urban education failure that can easily be fixed.

The long list includes broken families, lack of jobs, crushing poverty, teen pregnancy, child abuse, language barriers and the stress of a parent’s mental illness or drug/alcohol addiction. Don’t forget racism, prejudice, inequitable incarceration policies and unequal school resources. It’s not so easy to walk to school if your neighborhood is unsafe.

I think many people throw up their hands and try to ignore the river. But we need to consider our role, as a society, in creating the river. And lately the waves have gotten bigger with tougher standards.

Imagine a long staircase. Many poor, urban students start on the first step, arriving atImage kindergarten without knowing letters, how to count or sometimes even the names of colors. One study found that by the age of 4, children in poor families have heard 32 million fewer words than the children of professionals. But in a middle-class setting, many children start kindergarten already about six steps ahead, so it’s not hard to get them to “proficiency” on, let’s say, the seventh step. When low-income students work hard and have great help from teachers and volunteers and climb from the first to the fifth step, they’ve made incredible progress. But they’re still failing in the eyes of the state. Now the state has raised the bar to expect everyone to reach the eighth or ninth step.

Why has our community created school district boundaries that effectively segregate poor students? How do we expect to educate students who start out so far behind, and have great stresses in their lives, at the same costs as more advantaged students?

While wrestling with the big picture, we can’t ignore the children who are struggling right now. The first step toward change is to form connections. By being in the schools, tutoring students during the school day, we get to know people and better understand the issues and the needs.

In the past two years, we’ve tripled the size of our school volunteer program.  I am proud of the dedicated work of more than 100 volunteers last year to help children climb out of the river and up the steps.

More volunteers are needed. For information, see

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Filed under Rochester City School District

Reaching out to students who’ve missed school

   If you’re frequently missing school, you’re missing out on learning.

The average attendance rate has been just 86% this year at a Rochester city elementary school where I volunteer. So a slew of volunteers, including school staff and community folks, went to students’ houses on a recent afternoon to see what’s going wrong.

This was the city school district’s first Attendance Reach-Out for an elementary school. Of the 431 students in grades K-6, 48 students have had perfect attendance so far, but 21 students have already missed more than 20 days of school. The group with the worst attendance in this building: first grade.

Transportation came up repeatedly.

Among the stories the home visitors brought back:

  • One family had moved away, so now the enrollment records will be updated.
  • One mom whose two boys have missed 9 or 10 days of school said sometimes they miss the bus, which arrives at 6:55 a.m. (school starts at 7:50 a.m.). They live far from the school but the mom chose this school because her older daughter went there. The home visitors talked with the boys about ways they could help their mom and get themselves ready for school in time for the bus.
  • Another mom has 9 kids, including a baby and preschoolers. Two children go to two different schools. The three children on our list have all missed a lot of school. They live nearly 1 mile from the school and don’t qualify for busing. The mom said it takes the three kids 40 minutes to walk to school, which is exhausting in the cold, so she doesn’t always send them. (I wonder whether the children have appropriate winter clothing and coats/hats/mittens, and I wonder whether the route is safe.)
  • At another house, three older sisters attend a nearby school down the street, but that school was “full” so their first-grade sister travels 3 miles to a different school. That requires being ready for the school bus at 7:10 a.m., nearly 2 hours before her sisters have to go to school. (The sisters’ school starts at 9:15 a.m.) Her mother said the first-grader misses school when she misses the bus, because the mom can’t leave the other children unattended. A volunteer on that home visit recommended the mother go to the neighborhood school and insist that they take the first-grader. (I notice that the district’s student enrollment form asks for the names and ages of siblings but not which school they attend.)
  • One grandmother who is the caregiver for three children – including the smiling, sweet girl on this school’s list of students with poor attendance — pulled out her folders with each child’s school/medical records and showed that some of the attendance problems were due to meetings with Child Protective Services.

The district’s attendance office folks collected our notes and said they will follow up with each one.

I’m grateful for the district initiating this Attendance Reach-Out. I don’t know how much it will affect attendance. But at least families and school staff are talking about the situation.


Filed under Rochester City School District