Moving forward after school at Northeast; Wegmans stays the course

 April 13, 2013

This year Northeast College Prep initiated a potentially groundbreaking extended day program. Benefiting from a partnership with Wegmans, the program provides enriched academic mini-classes, individualized tutorials, a host of interesting extra-curriculars like drama, drumming, game clubs, and—something important for many kids—a free meal.

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Paul Speranza at the Douglass Campus

Last September opened with lofty hopes. In the first weeks, splendid weather allowed us, as an entire school, to spend time outside. Footballs were thrown; soccer balls kicked. I mined my garage for a trove of bats, gloves, and balls, and we even played old-fashioned games of sandlot baseball. A sense of school spirit was palpable. But would the initiative be sustainable over the long haul?

The other day, I ran into Paul Speranza, Wegman’s Vice Chairman, General Counsel and Secretary, as well as a dedicated after school volunteer. Paul has played an instrumental role in building a school/community team as part of the company’s ongoing commitment to public service.

Eight months in, I asked Paul for a snapshot progress report. Without hesitation, he cited at least ten contributions—big and small—already made.

Fundamentally, besides providing immediate support, Northeast’s program was envisioned as a testing ground or laboratory for expanding extended day throughout the district. So far, the results are promising. Rather than scaling back, Superintendent Vargas is installing extended day in 20% of city schools. Furthermore, possibly due to Northeast’s success, Governor Cuomo’s recently passed budget includes more funding for extended day, which the district will vigorously pursue.

Paul believes extended day works by focusing on key components sometimes missing during the regular day: full reading immersion, enhanced technology tutoring and sustained youth advocacy support. In doing so, Northeast has increased collaboration with Nazareth, RIT, and the Hillside Work Scholarship Program, itself backed by Wegmans for over 25 years.

Alongside expanding these institutional ties, the Northeast program—spearheaded by Wegmans—has actively recruited community volunteers. As Paul rightly says, community volunteers can be the lifeblood of a thriving after school program. Almost all volunteers at the school have had an excellent experience, and any issues along the way have served as opportunities for improving volunteer practices in general. Superintendent Vargas and all involved have learned much from the process, and Vargas definitively wants to continue the volunteer component. In many ways, the Northeast model has become the template for future volunteer programs throughout the district.

Furthermore, Paul strongly asserts that Wegmans has never wavered in its commitment, adding that the company is nothing if not persistent. In addition to offering managerial input, including “donating” Ty Kelly, its Director of Youth Development, to ably assist, Wegmans has done little things that add up: donating excess furniture, bringing chefs and dieticians to work with the students, helping kids decorate a gingerbread house during the holidays. The list goes on.

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CITY, 10/24/13

Finally, Paul’s own personal dedication has amplified through his Thursday afternoon tutoring sessions, ones he has found far more rewarding than he expected. One young man Paul has worked with made steady progress as a reader. As his self-confidence has increased, he now has a much more positive attitude towards learning. In a few short months, with Paul’s help, the student has come to really enjoy articles on sports and other topics that genuinely interest him.

Sometimes one child at a time, Wegmans is making city schools better.

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