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.


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.


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.


About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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