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Engaging Youth – For us it’s personal: A successful approach to HSE Diploma programs

By Amanda Vellake, Director of Adult Education, Buffalo Public Schools

October 6, 2019

As the largest adult education program in Western New York, Buffalo Public Schools Adult Education Division serves close to 6,500 students annually. Our reach is broad and our impact is significant. It’s rewarding to know how many lives we touch. 

Throughout the year, we hear many stories about our students’ success which reflect the hard work of our instructional and support staff and the perseverance of our students. Without a doubt, the work we do in our youth program, the Career Collegiate Institute (CCI), is particularly noteworthy. 

Student Ambassador Mubarek Ismail tends to the Career Collegiate Institute's community garden.

One-on-one works 

The overall approach to serving students at CCI is to recognize and address their individual needs and to build strong interpersonal relationships in a supportive environment. A school psychologist, special education instructor, and career adviser work alongside classroom teachers to ensure that the personal challenges many CCI students face are addressed with on-site programs or referrals to a strong community support network of wrap-around services. Value-added services also include tutoring and mentoring, career exploration, attendance incentives, and an array of leadership opportunities that instill a sense of responsibility. 

CCI’s Student Ambassador Program empowers students by including them in initiating, planning, and implementing projects related to their education experience. Student Ambassadors assist with open houses, new student orientation, tours of the CCI facility, college fairs and other special events. In addition, these students serve as positive role models for their peers. 

Strengthening life skills 

To support academic success, CCI instructional staff frequently work together with students to develop practical skills for use in everyday life. For example, during the holiday season, teachers created a lesson plan for baking traditional cookies. Students learned about measurement, following directions, teamwork, and cooperation. And they brought home some delicious baked treats for their families! 

In addition, school administrators and teachers developed a hands-on curriculum that teaches students how to plant and sustain a community garden on school grounds. Students learned about soil and plant management and were engaged in discussions about health and nutrition. 


CCI Security Officer demonstrates chess moves and guides a student in the Student Café before classes. The Café is a place where students can engage with classmates and staff and build relationships.

Celebrating success 

One of CCI’s most impressive success stories involves Shani Page who enrolled in the program at a second grade reading level. She had been a student in a traditional high school setting where she struggled with learning disabilities and academic challenges. She knew she needed a different path and decided to pursue her high school equivalency diploma at CCI. 

It took her three years of hard work and in 2018 she earned her NYS HSE diploma. In the same year she was recognized as an Outstanding Student of the Year by NYACCE. 

Our Division and our District are proud of what we have been able to accomplish at CCI. At least 90% of our TASC™ test takers pass the exam and earn their high school equivalency diplomas. Their achievements are celebrated at the Division’s annual graduation ceremony held at Buffalo State College’s Performing Arts Center where graduates cross the stage amid loud cheers from family, friends and the teaching staff that stood by them. 

More info about the Career Collegiate Institute can be found here: 

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