The Atlantic

A Rust Belt City's School Turnaround

After decades of distrust and dysfunction, Buffalo makes education a priority with a community-wide commitment.
Source: Amadou Diallo / The Hechinger Report

BUFFALO, N.Y.—When 18-year-old Karolina Espinosa looks back to her freshman year at Buffalo’s Hutchinson Central Technical High School, graduation seemed like a long shot. “At the time,” she said, “both of my parents were incarcerated. I had trouble with reading, and I had problems with attendance.” But in May, sitting in the office of her school’s family support specialist, Joell Stubbe, Karolina talked excitedly about going to Buffalo State University, where she’s been accepted into the class of 2021.  

Karolina credits the turnaround to her relationship with Stubbe. “She’s like my older sister,” Karolina said. “I don’t really talk about my problems ... or deal with my emotions with people. I don’t even talk to my [real] sister about them or cry in front of her. And I do that with [Stubbe]. Without her I wouldn’t even be in school, honestly. I would have been a dropout.”

As an in-school family support specialist, Stubbe serves as a liaison between students, families and a number of health, legal, and academic support services provided by local community organizations. Stubbe has a counterpart in every public school in the city, yet neither she nor her colleagues are employees of the Buffalo Public School system. Their positions were created by and are funded through Say Yes to Education Buffalo, a local chapter of a New York City-based nonprofit.  

In Buffalo, a Rust Belt city still grappling with high poverty and an , the, the highest rate the city has achieved in more than a decade.

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