On February 4, I visited Riverside Academy with West District Board Member Jennifer Mecozzi. Riverside Academy is a new innovative high school offering "career and technical programs geared to preparing students for careers in the the fundamental components of the Blue Economy movement: sustainable commercial and recreational fisheries; tourism and recreation; and coastal restoration."
Our visit began with a conversation with Principal David Hills and students. Students spoke openly about their experiences at Riverside Academy. A consistent theme was evident- family and relationships. Under the leadership of Principal Hills, students felt like they belonged to a family at Riverside; they also emphasized feeling connected to and supported by teachers.
Principal Hills was transparent in discussing his school and data on attendance, suspensions, and Regents exam outcomes. He particularly emphasized concern with attendance- 32% of students are chronically absent. In contrast, Principal Hills noted that there has been 34% fewer short-term suspensions this school year.
Principal Hills was comfortable in letting his students speak openly on these matters and beyond. Though students spoke positively about their experiences at Riverside, they expressed feeling forgotten and unnoticed on a District level. Students mentioned wanting more opportunities in music and art and Principal Hills added the need for more mental health staff to address the social-emotional needs of students, particularly with a high percentage of students with disabilities. Students also mentioned concern with needing NFTA bus passes, when they live under the 1.5 mile cap.
After meeting with students, Principal Hills had Ms. Mecozzi and I visit the Boat Club at the Buffalo Maritime Center, which is just adjacent to Riverside Academy. Here, we observed students participating in a STEM experience building wooden boats. This real, hands-on experience was remarkable, as was the entire Maritime Center that we toured.
Riverside Academy is in its third year and will graduate its first class next June. You can learn more about this great innovative high school and its Blue Economy programming, here: Riverside Academy.