Buffalo gets $3.9 million to convert MLK Multicultural Institute into STEM school

WASHINGTON – The Buffalo Board of Education will receive a $3.9 million federal grant to convert Martin Luther King Multicultural Institute into a fifth- through 12th-grade school specializing in science, technology, engineering and math.

The school, at 487 High St., will be allied with the nearby Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to give students a firsthand look at high-tech careers.

The award to Buffalo is one of 24 that President Obama is set to announce at an appearance today at a high school in the Washington suburb of Bladensberg, Md. The money comes from a program established by the U.S. Department of Labor in conjunction with the Department of Education that aims to connect school districts, colleges and the job-training system to develop ways of integrating education with work experience.

“This is huge,” Buffalo School Superintendent Pamela C. Brown said Sunday. “It doesn’t just impact students in the district. It impacts the city as a whole, because it will prepare students for careers in such an important field in the Buffalo community.”

The new school will open as soon as this fall, serving grades 5 and 6, as well as 9 and 10, Brown said.

Within two years, it will serve grades 5 through 12 and enroll between 600 and 650 students, according to the superintendent.

The school will eventually be renamed, Brown added, though the new name will also honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“It’s close to the Medical Campus, which gives us the opportunity to take advantage of that proximity to help expose children to careers there in practical and meaningful ways,” said Barbara Seals Nevergold, president of the Buffalo Board of Education.

Martin Luther King Multicultural Institute has been failing to meet standards for years, and School Board member John B. Licata began a push last summer to convert the school into a facility specializing in what is now referred to as STEM education: training in the science, technology, engineering and math subjects that are seen by many as the pathway to the careers of the future.

Last month, the School Board narrowly approved a plan to convert King Multicultural Institute into a STEM school, but the federal grant gives the district a huge boost toward fulfilling that plan by allowing the school to purchase additional equipment and staff, Brown said.

Some 275 schools applied for the Youth CareerConnect grants. The Buffalo district not only won one of the 24 grants, but received one that was proportionally much higher than those of some other districts.

For example, the New York City Board of Education, which operates schools that serve 23 times more students than in Buffalo, received only $7 million.

“Our staff did a wonderful job researching potential funding sources and applying for this grant,” Brown said.

A White House official said the grants are part of Obama’s effort to rethink the high school experience to improve students’ exposure to STEM careers.

Youth CareerConnect schools aim to:

• Focus on high-demand industries such as information technology and health care.

• Offer a career-focused curriculum that involves not just classroom work, but also work-based learning, mentoring and “job shadowing,” where students could see what high-tech professionals do firsthand.

• Provide education and training that can lead to credit toward a college degree or an industry-recognized credential.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, lauded the grant program.

“This is the type of education reform we need, getting academia and our workforce training programs together to make sure our kids are graduating with the marketable skills, especially in math and science, they need to compete in a globalized economy,” he said.

“Other countries are making these investments and we have to as well.”

email: jzremski@buffnews.com

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