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Preventing high school dropouts - in kindergarten?

Daniel Robison
Innovation Trail/WBFO

The Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) received good news last year: its four-year graduation rate rose by seven percent. Still, nearly half the district’s high school students failed to earn a diploma. The struggling urban school system continues to look for dramatic fixes. This year, the district is starting in kindergarten.

Ready Freddy

With pencils in hand and name tags adorning desks, Mrs. Brady’s students at School 45 are in a classroom for the first time. As kindergarteners, they’re part of the BPS class of 2025.

"Raise your hands if you had a good summer!" Brady exclaims. "Now raise two hands if you had a great summer!"

While most students happily play along, one wailing boy is not eager to begin his scholastic career. Begging to be sent home, the young man cries and whines in fits.

The sight and sound of a crying child is common in kindergarten, says Nadia Nashir, principal of School 45. In many cases, this is enough for parents to keep their kids out of school, among a litany of other reasons they cite.

But this year, BPS isimplementing a new program in five of its most underperforming schools with the aim of keeping students coming back to class every day.

Students notice lilypad decals lining the hallways. Eventually, they encounter someone dressed in a giant fuzzy frog costume jumping, pumping fists and giving thumbs-up gestures.

This is Ready Freddy, and histheme song is piped through the school:

I’m gonna make new friends, read lots of stories

Learn my letters and numbers too

And I can’t wait ‘til I can show you

All the things I’m gonna learn to do

Are you Ready Freddy?

Ready to have some fun

Are you Ready Freddy?

I’ll see you at school, everyone!

Already, the green mascot has made a connection with students at School 45, says Nashir. 

“They gave him a high five, like he was a good friend of theirs: ‘Oh, Ready Freddy give me a hug.’ It was a different kind of environment,” says Nashir. “Last school year I remember my kindergarten teacher having to put a bookshelf near her door because students were running out.”

For more on this story and others from the Innovation Trail, visit their website at InnovationTrail.org

This story is part of the Innovation Trail's partnership with FRONTLINE's Dropout Nation. You can read the other reports here.

The Innovation Trail is a collaboration between six upstate New York public media outlets. The initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), helps the public gain a better understanding of the connection between technological breakthroughs and the revitalization of the upstate New York economy.