St. Anne Institute in Albany, a nationally-recognized treatment center and school for troubled teenage girls, has received a federal grant to start academic enrichment and youth development programs at Hudson Falls Central High School.
The grant - $294,725 annually for three years - comes from the U.S. Department of Education's 21st-Century Community Learning Centers program.
Three educators, counselors or social workers hired by St. Anne's will run the programs from a Hudson Falls satellite office; they will also have office space in Hudson Falls Central High School, where they will develop a freshman seminar, an after-school program, a family resource center and a morning drop-in center, among other initiatives.
Agency and school district leaders say the collaboration is the first of its kind and will ideally boost graduation rates among students from low-income families.
"Our whole mission is with struggling families [who] are having difficulty, who are often marginalized," said Anthony Cortese, CEO of St. Anne Institute. "In this case, it's probably more preventive in nature - to help kids avoid the difficulties of dropping out of school."
St. Anne's already offers counseling and in-home services in its Troy and Hudson Falls offices to families who are struggling financially, so "it made sense to us" to look at adding more services in one of those areas, Mr. Cortese said.
The state refers to the Hudson Falls Central School District as "high-need." About 55 percent of students qualify for low-cost or free lunches, according to Mark Doody, superintendent. The district's graduation rate is about 75 percent.
"We certainly have a needy population," Mr. Doody confirmed. "They have needs that have to be addressed in order for them to be successful in school. When they enter school [in kindergarten], many students are behind," with limited vocabulary.
The school district has supports in place from pre-kindergarten through high school, but ninth grade is a defining time - especially for freshmen struggling with poor nutrition; mental health diagnoses; substance abuse; physical, mental and sexual abuse; and other difficulties at home.
"This is really their last chance," Mr. Doody said of the beginning of high school. "If they're not successful as ninth-graders, it's very hard to catch them up."
The high school is proud of its counselors, social workers, school nurse and educators, "but sometimes all that is not enough," he added. "These kids need additional support, and that's why we're so excited about this grant."
St. Anne's staff will lead a 10-week seminar for the approximately 180 incoming freshmen to "give them a little bit more confidence," Mr. Cortese said. Students will learn school survival, social interaction, coping and organizational skills, and program staff will identify the high-needs individuals.
The after-school program will be geared toward the teenagers who hang around the school building in the afternoon but don't get involved in sports or music programs. They will receive academic tutoring; try music, art and poetry; use educational technology and go on field trips. Mr. Doody is eyeing SUNY Adirondack's high ropes adventure course as an option.
Family and friends
Freshmen will start the school day at the drop-in center, and they can end it with their parents and siblings in the family resource center, which will have a small library with materials about social services. St. Anne's staff will also provide mentoring and social work in homes.
The collaborators say it's all about building positive relationships with adult role models and even older peers: Upperclassmen who are members of the National Honor Society and student council will volunteer as tutors and program assistants.
Freshmen will be able to "see the school as a safe place to go," Mr. Cortese said. "If you can make it through ninth grade, your [chances] of graduating increase significantly."
The social work department at The College of Saint Rose in Albany will evaluate the program; Mr. Cortese hopes to get the grant renewed in three years. There were 124 other award recipients in New York State, including the city school districts of Troy, Schenectady, Hudson and Albany.