Orleans/Niagara BOCES wins national award

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 March 2014 at 12:00 am

Only 3 districts in country recognized with Magna

MEDINA – A program through the Orleans/Niagara BOCES that connected the community with veterans has been recognized with one of three national awards “for taking bold and innovative steps to advance public education,” according to the National School Boards Association.

The local BOCES will receive a Magna Award for its Literacy Zone/Men’s Cooking Class. The Literacy Zone provides adult education and is run by the Orleans/Niagara BOCES.

“This project encompasses lifelong learning at its best,” said Susan Diemert, literacy specialist for Orleans/Niagara BOCES. “From children to adults, the value of education and support for each other was a result of a project that developed from a simple idea. A community worked together to provide the awareness needed to help those less fortunate.”

Provided photo – Members of the Orleans/Niagara BOCES Board of Education and the Literacy Zone coordinator include bottom row, from left: Wendy Swearingen (Lew Port), Dr. Thurston Dale (Medina), Susan Diemert (Literacy Zone Coordinator), Rebecca Albright (Wilson), Maureen Kaus (Niagara Wheatfield) and Joanne Woodside (Lockport).  Back row, from left: Johnny Destino (Niagara Falls), Ruth Smith (Barker), Thomas Klotzbach (Lyndonville), Janice Covell (Starpoint) and Donald Joslyn (Albion). Missing: Keith Bond (Royalton Hartland), Michael Carney (North Tonawanda), James Reinke (Newfane).

An independent panel of school board members, administrators, and other educators selected the Magna winners from nearly 250 submissions. The NSBA recognized the program for advancing student learning and encouraging community involvement in schools.

Orleans/Niagara BOCES Adult Literacy program began a new initiative in July 2013 called a Literacy Zone Welcome Center located at the Christ Community Church in Lockport. It was patterned after the Niagara Falls program that was started in 2009.

A Literacy Zone Welcome Center is located in an impoverished neighborhood in a city with high levels of unemployment, illiteracy, and underemployment. It invites individuals and families to come to a facility for high school equivalency, remediation, computers skills, and job readiness and career preparation.

The Literacy Zone staff can assist the individual to find solutions to help break barriers and move in a positive direction toward employment, training, post secondary, and a more productive life.

“This project made a difference in the lives of all that were involved,” Diemert said. “Orleans/Niagara BOCES Adult literacy program is more than just an academic program. Our goal is to help people to recognize what challenges they have and how to develop a plan to overcome the barriers to create a brighter life for themselves and their families.”

The Orleans/Niagara BOCES won the grand prize for districts with 5,000 or fewer students. Other Magana winners include the St. Charles Parish Public Schools in Luling, La., and the Kent School District in Kent, Wash. Each of the grand prize-winning school districts will receive a $5,000 contribution from Sodexo during a special presentation at NSBA Annual Conference on April 5-7 in New Orleans.

Diemert said the Lockport program has been successful due to partnerships in the community. The BOCES worked with more than 60 agencies and community organizations to run the program and strive for successful solutions for the students.

The group partnered with the Kids Breaking Free Foundation, a community enrichment organization supportive of educating at-risk youth and their families. The Men’s Cooking Class was a result of this partnership. The men learned how to slice and dice, learn recipes, and budget for healthy meals for their families. The idea to cook for the veterans sparked other community involvement and partnerships to raise awareness for the local veterans in Niagara County.

KBFF was also running a book club for fourth- to sixth-graders who were reading a book about veterans. This resulted in a canned food drive to benefit veterans and their families.

The class on July 5 last year prepared salads and manned the grills on one of the warmest days of the summer at the Elks Lodge in Lockport. Kids Breaking Free Foundation, volunteers from veterans’ organizations, and Orleans/Niagara BOCES staff helped plan and run the event on July 5.

“It was a wonderful day and uplifting to see so many people supporting our local veterans,” said Chuck Diemert, Literacy Zone Coordinator.  “What started as a simple lunch developed into a partnership with many groups and individuals resulting in a community project that would raise money and awareness to address the needs of thousands of veterans in our community.”

The Orleans/Niagara BOCES serves 13 school districts in the two counties.

Dr. Clark Godshall, District Superintendent of Orleans/Niagara BOCES, said he is proud of the Board of Education and the Literacy Zone staff members.

“To receive national recognition for their outstanding achievement just highlights the thoughtful and deliberate work they do to improve the lives of our students and the community,” Godshall said.