BATAVIA — City Council members tonight voted to support the Batavia City School District’s application for New York State Education Department grant funds for the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, My Brother’s Keeper’s purpose is to raise the academic achievement and college and career readiness of boys and young men of color.
The vote was 6-1 in support, with Council member Rose Mary Christian voting against the partnership. She had asked that the resolution be amended to include girls among those who would benefit from the initiative. She was told that wasn’t something the City Council could do, with the state setting the criteria for the grant program.
The resolution, approved during a special business meeting, states the school district would apply for a grant to start and run the program. The school district is required to have local partners who would assist it with community engagement, advertising, providing Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant meeting space and partner on youth programs.
A memorandum Friday from Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski to the Council listed certain roles the city would have in the partnership, if the school district is awarded the grant. The roles include:
• providing support, when available, to school district efforts to provide parent engagement and education, mentorship, college and career pathways and other evidence-based strategies that will accomplish the goals of My Brother’s Keeper;
• provide space on bulletin boards and display racks to advertise My Brother’s Keeper activities and any other early childhood education programs the district offers;
• provide opportunities for mentors and those they’re mentoring to meet at the city’s Liberty Center for Youth after-school program;
• provide homework assistance at the Liberty Center for Youth to help reduce the dropout rate and increase the graduation rate.
Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski said the request from the school district came to her a little late and that the school district needs to apply by Friday. If the Council moved the request to a business meeting, it would have had to be Monday night’s, she said.
CHRISTIAN ASKED WHY girls and all students aren’t included in My Brother’s Keeper.
“You’re singling out a group,” she said, referring to boys and young men of color.
Batavia High School Assistant Principal Julia Rogers said My Brother’s Keeper started under former President Barack Obama a few years ago, It’s based on data showing that students of color — children and young men — do not have the same opportunities.
“My Brother’s Keeper is a program that is offered through many districts and basically, it shows a partnership to help these students. For instance, in Batavia, our numbers in the UPK (Universal Pre-K) program are low for students of color,” Rogers said. “To work with families from birth to school age to encourage the education and teaching how to educate your children at home. There’s a lot of components to that mentorship.”
“In reality, those students (children and young men) are the ones who are having difficulties, and there are major gaps for those students. So, what we’re looking for is to have this program and to be able to bridge from it so that our students in all aspects of school … can have a better opportunity,” she said.
Christian said anyone should be allowed to participate in this program, “because if not, I find it discriminating and it bothers me.”
“I’m not a racist person by no means, and this bothers me. So, otherwise, I am going call tomorrow to the Civil Liberties (Union) because I want to make sure that there’s nothing that anyone is denouncing here for any person,” Christian said Monday night.
COUNCIL PRESIDENT EUGENE JANKOWSKI JR. said he had some concerns, noting Obama brought My Brother’s Keeper to light in 2014 or 2015. New York state adopted it in 2016.
“Now, you’re telling me that the studies already show that we have youth in our own community that are identified as having concerns or troubles and they’re not at the same level,” he said. “What have we been doing for five years if we knew this? Why weren’t we helping these children five years ago. What are we doing in the school system right now to help these kids — persons of color or others who may need it. Why are we waiting a week before the deadline and trying to force this through without public input ... when we knew about this since 2016 or this grant was out there since 2016.
“It took us five years to do something. Why? What are we doing in the school system that is not helping, or if we are, why can’t we just continue that?” he asked.
Jankowski said he gets complaints from people all the time that taxes are so high.
“The school taxes are the major point of it and they’re expecting a service for the children of our community and I’m a little upset because we’ve kind of not been doing anything for five years for these kids,” he said.
Rogers said My Brother’s Keeper is an additional program that the district has a chance to be a part of.
“We do so much. We have a multi-tiered system approach to assist students,” Rogers said. “We have had great graduation rates. I do not have those numbers in front of me. This is another program we felt would assist us as a school district and as a community to bridge that gap, to offer more opportunities to students. It is a program that helps bridge that gap and enhance and cultivate those educational workforce opportunities for students.”
COUNCIL MEMBER AL MCGINNIS said the city needs public input.
“I don’t think we can proceed without public input,” he said. “I’d like the language changed to say ‘all children.’
COUNCIL MEMBER PATTI PACINO said, “For all this time, before this (My Brother’s Keeper) came along, we take care of kids who come from families who are Muslin, kids who come from families that only speak Spanish, kids who come from Black families that have no money. We also take care of kids who come from families who have all kinds of money, but don’t have parental support. That’s all been going on,” she said. “The word is ‘expanding.’ You say, ‘Wait, here’s another program we can add to our programs,’ is the point of the whole thing.”
Pacino said it’s true that this program has to do with Black, young men.
“That happens to be one part where we’re having problems. These kids are getting into trouble,” she said. “That does not mean that other kids aren’t. It’s just that that’s what this program was meant to do. It’s an expansion — one more great thing to do for kids. I’d love to have them go through and take it. I worked with these kids for a long time and it’s all real.”