In early 2016, a group of immigrants and former refugees got together around shared concerns about disparities in education for immigrant and refugee kids in Buffalo Public Schools (BPS). Graduation rates were low, community schools weren’t accessible enough to community members, there was a lack of data to track student progress, and nothing was being done about it. Not content to sit by and let things slide, we decided to organize, and thus BILT was born.
BILT leaders set to work developing relationships with the principal of Lafayette International Academy and several officials in BPS. We presented our concerns to and demanded a response from BPS officials at public meetings in October, 2016 and May, 2017. These meetings, which drew nearly 500 people, were designed to hold BPS publicly accountable for their commitments. Because of BILT’s organizing work, Lafayette Community School expanded its hours so that more community members can access citizenship classes, tutoring, English language classes, and other resources. BILT also secured a commitment from BPS officials to track and share data on immigrant and refugee-background students in order to better track their progress.
Currently, there are 6,000 English language Learner’s in BPS, and in 2016 the high school graduation rate was only 26% for ELL students.
On October 25, the Buffalo Immigrant Leadership Team, along with hundreds of diverse VOICE-Buffalo and BILT members, held a powerful Public Meeting that began to shift the narrative for the 6,000 English Language Learners in the Buffalo Public School system. This was the culmination of over a year of power meetings, strategy, and action focused on raising the graduation rate among English Language Learners in BPS. Speakers, including Beh Meh and Christella Ombeni, brought the audience to its feet when they testified that BPS neglects to provide the educational opportunities that immigrants and children from Puerto Rico desire and deserve. BPS Superintendent, Dr. Kriner Cash, responded via recorded message that he is committed to increasing the number of bilingual teachers and looks forward to working with BILT to advocate on the state level for increased bilingual certification programs. This marked a significant win for BILT and was a powerful statement that our organizing work is shifting the narrative so former refugees and immigrants are at the center of system change in our community.
To get involved in BILT’s work, please contact our organizer, Brian Zralek, at firstname.lastname@example.org.