Our View: School board should save SAFE

Mayo sophomore Endia Jordan, right, attends the SAFE (Student and Family Engagement) Career Fair Thursday afternoon at Mayo High School. Lisa Weber discusses law enforcement with her.

What are they thinking?

We honestly want to know.

The Student and Family Engagement program, or SAFE program, is about to be cut from Rochester Public Schools. It's one of the city's most effective and inclusive programs for youth, and it's on its way out.

We want to know why.

School district officials say they want the district to known for equity. They want to narrow achievement gaps.


District administrators have stated these goals repeatedly. Parents and residents have named them a priority. So has the school board.

When we backed the referendum, it was because we didn't want to take a step backward. When the community voted it up, the district promised that no existing programs would go away.

Yet, a program that encapsulates all of this is in jeopardy. In fact, it is the only program in jeopardy.

The SAFE Program, active in several schools throughout the district, creates first-generation college students. It fosters creativity, indulges inquisitiveness, connects students with professionals and provides a platform for new ideas to take root.

We'll admit we were late to the SAFE Program party — we first encountered participants this spring while talking to Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency staff about attracting millennials to Rochester. We met students who want to open businesses, get into medicine and go into the Drug Enforcement Administration. After months of hand-wringing about a workforce shortage with no end in sight, we were encouraged. These students could save us all.

We aren't alone in our thinking.

"This is a future workforce that will be here, so it's important to develop those [relationships]," said Sankesh Prabhakar, a founder of young professionals group The Commission.

Last year, The Commission got involved with SAFE. Its involvement ramped up to a couple events per month this year. Commission members conducted mock interviews, held career panels and spoke to students one on one about the modern complexities of life as young professionals. The students received wisdom about workforce shortages, different degrees and college loans.


"We think it's a very valuable program and it'd really be a big miss for it to go away, because some of those kids are learning a lot of career skills that they're not getting in class, like basic interview skills. They're using it for their first job and those kind of things," Prabhakar said. "A lot of them don't think they have a chance to go to college so they're talking to people about that. It's pretty important."

The Commission's members also made connections because of a closeness in age. Encountering different generations of professionals is a huge benefit for students, who will graduate into a workforce landscape that changes by the minute.

SAFE does not stop at skills. It takes students bird-banding, tours economic development agency offices and fosters real connections with some of Rochester's elites.

We are told a handful of equity specialists will take over. Do their titles really make them qualified enough to shoulder the work being done by educators and a whole burgeoning network of professionals, officials and involved citizens?

We don't think so. School board members need to do the right thing Tuesday night. They should vote to keep the SAFE program.

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