Project Believe Program Helps High-Risk Kids Make the Grade

UR Medical Students Start Saturday School Program at School No. 7

December 04, 2001

At the Virgil I. Grissom School No. 7, 46 percent of fourth graders did not pass the New York State comprehensive math exam and 44 percent did not pass the state reading exam. University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry medical students hope to increase the pass rate to 90 percent through its new Saturday School Program.

The Saturday School Program is part of the University of Rochester and Strong Health's Project Believe initiative which aspires to help Rochester become America's healthiest community by 2020. By coalescing the resources that are unique to the University of Rochester Medical Center and Strong Memorial Hospital-the teaching, patient care, and research facilities-the organization hopes to positively influence the health of Rochestarians.

In the case of the Saturday School Program, the focus is on the more than 100 K-6 children attending the three-hour Saturday School. Each week, students are served breakfast at 9 a.m. and then tutored for two hours in core subjects such as math, science and reading by more than 40 University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry students. The program ends with a half-hour activity session. For those children living more than one mile away, transportation is provided.

Beginning in January, Saturday School will include monthly health screenings and seminars for parents of attending children. The program is set to run through May in six-week blocks. Attendance by the children is voluntary.

According to Adrienne Morgan, director of Student Enrichment Programs at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, response to Saturday School has been overwhelming.

"The prospect of going to school on a Saturday morning would have been the last thing I would have expected any child to get excited about, but these students show up every week eager to learn," Morgan said. "We originally expected about 40 students to sign-up, so we are thrilled with having almost double that number currently attending our Saturday School."

Second-year medical student Antionette Eng, who worked with fellow student Laura Rau to create the program, said that many of these children suffer academically because of issues at home or within the community.

"At first, I was shocked by some of the deficits in basic reading, writing and math," Eng said. "But after getting to know the kids a little, I learned about the problems they deal with everyday-things like domestic violence, drug abuse, and poverty to name a few. With all these other issues, it's no wonder that their academics have suffered."

Rau added that the enthusiasm of the children is contagious.

"The energy and wit of the kids are so bright that they have managed to make more school on a Saturday morning sound great, even to us study-weary medical students," Rau said

Funding for Saturday School comes from the Association of American Medical Colleges in conjunction with Pfizer, Inc., and the Pfizer Medical Humanities Initiative.

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Germaine Reinhardt
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