Buffalo students are “S.O.A.R.ing” to new heights
At-risk students are reaching new heights thanks to Project S.O.A.R. (Success, Opportunity, Achievement, Responsibility). A joint project between Buffalo (NY) Public Schools and non-profit Cradle Beach, the program provides long-term mentor support to 310 students.
Project S.O.A.R. matches students with a one-on-one, positive adult mentor, every day – including summers - for 10 years of the student’s life. The mentors, who receive AmeriCorps training, provide hope, opportunities and life changing experiences.
“This (the one-on-one match) is truly the building block of everything else we do. When a student has support every day of their life it snowballs into success, shared Nick Schifano, Director of Project S.O.A.R. I’m proud of the students who have found a purpose and a reason to take their education seriously because of the mentors and Project S.O.A.R.”
“The only way to be successful is to value your education and always have a goal to strive for, Schifano continued. As a program, we have a lot of work to do but we will celebrate the small successes and strive to be our best for the children we serve.”
Since the program’s inception in 2010, there have been several success stories. Here are a few.
As a fifth-grader, Annabelle was argumentative and disrespectful with classmates and teachers alike. Far too often, her actions landed her in the school’s Student Support Room where she missed out on learning time.
Project S.O.A.R. paired Annabelle with an AmeriCorps mentor at the beginning of the 2014 school year. She began to open up and her attitude and behavior improved. She spent more time in class and her grades improved. She was much less disrespectful, and when she was, she realized and apologized.
"What I like about Project S.O.A.R. is that every single morning I give you guys hugs and you’re so happy to see me. Everybody is loving and caring, and I can talk to you guys (the mentors) about everything, especially since you guys helped me through my mom’s passing and everything else over the past two years. Project S.O.A.R. is really fun, and I appreciate everything they’ve done for me.”
Today, the sixth-grader has confidence in her leadership skills, accepts others, and focuses on her academics. Annabelle even participates in class and after school programs. She now brings a positive, contagious energy to class instead of disruption.
When Jalissa was in third-grade, she was quiet and shy. She had difficulty completing assignments, rarely participated in class and often missed school. A struggling C- student, Jalissa didn’t believe in herself or think she could make the honor roll.
After four years working one-on-one with a mentor, she has shown steady improvement. She has more confidence and self-motivation. Jalissa now has someone in her life that gives her the strength to believe in herself and set goals
Today, Jalissa is in sixth-grade and has perfect attendance. Gone is the shy and quiet girl. Now she leads her peers by encouraging them. When others are bullied, she stands up for them. She is an Honor Roll student who is outgoing, energetic, bright, and a true leader.
“My mentors helped me get my grades up and my attendance too,” Jalissa said. “Having a mentor helped me because I have someone to talk to.”
One of the first nine students in Project S.O.A.R., Jason is now exceeding expectations six years later.
In the fall of 2009, Jason was full of energy and anger. He lacked self-control, and struggled to focus in the classroom. He did not know how to connect with his teachers and peers. Instead, Jason wandered the halls during class.
Though kind and compassionate, his inability to build relationships made him feel left out. Jason’s mentors worked with his mom to develop a plan and paired him with an AmeriCorps tutor and a mentor in his classroom.
The daily classroom interaction Project S.O.A.R. provided allowed his mentors to discover most of Jason’s anger and acting-out stemmed from academic struggles and the need for more one-on-one tutoring.
With someone to count on, and the comfort of daily support, Jason blossomed into a kind, caring, and motivated leader. Last school year, he helped others by tutoring and mentoring the new Project S.O.A.R. third-graders and excelled at summer camp as a peer counselor.
Now a high school student, Jason continues to succeed and is a model for all Project S.O.A.R. students.
Nyshon enjoyed the notoriety his actions generated from his classmates more than getting his education. He barely progressed from one grade to another.
Project S.O.A.R. paired Nyshon with a mentor who helped him write out specific goals. They found Nyshon enjoyed solving mathematical problems. He only needed a little guidance, confidence in his ability to learn, and a caring adult who could answer his questions.
By the end of the 3rd semester of 6th grade, Nyshon settled into his schoolwork. He rejoined the class in a group setting. He no longer had to sit at a single desk on the outside of the group. His behavior had changed for the best.
He achieved perfect attendance as well as the merit roll. His improvement was noticeable, but he would not be satisfied until he reached his goal of making the Honor Roll.
He applied himself more than ever to passing the sixth-grade. He turned his work in on time and boldly asked for extra credit to secure his place on the Honor Roll. His efforts to make the Honor Roll paid off. In the fourth semester, Nyshon earned a 92% GPA to place him on the Honor Roll.
Nyshon also participates in Project S.O.A.R.’s Summer Enrichment Program. “I like going to the Project S.O.A.R. summer camp because I get to spend time away from the T.V. We learn new things and go to a lot of the different places during the summer. Going to a Bison’s game was my favorite part.“
Results gain attention and monetary support
The unique educational and leadership programs offered by Cradle Beach, like Project S.O.A.R., have attracted attention from leaders and businesses in the community. In the past ten years, several State Farm agents from the Buffalo area have worked together to raise and donate more than one million dollars to Cradle Beach. With the continued support of their community, Cradle Beach will help change the lives of hundreds of students, and in turn the community as a whole, for years to come.