Some good things happening for, in Youngstown schools

As a product of the Youngstown City Schools, it has saddened me to see how the district has fallen – in its morals, athletics, and, most importantly, its academics.

Unless you’ve been away from the city for some time, you are well aware of the state law created to improve the district’s academic status.

But there are some positive things happening in the schools, and I’m going to recap a few of them.

At the Jan. 24 school board meeting, the executive director for High School that Works Ohio Network, headquartered in Mount Sterling, Ohio, will present Rayen Early College Middle School with a recognition for receiving the 2016 Making Middle Grades Work Top Performing Site in the Northeast Ohio Region.

According to a news release, the recognition is based on the performance of Rayen’s 2016 eighth-grade students on 12 of the 15 indexes on the national 2016 MMGW student and teacher surveys.

Rayen Early College Middle School exceeded all MMGW schools nationally, and was a top-performing school in High Schools That Work Northeast Ohio Region in providing students with an intensive emphasis in English/language arts curriculum, mathematics curriculum, high expectations for all students, extra help, engaging literacy, engaging science and engaging students emotionally, intellectually and behaviorally.

A total of 62 Rayen Early College students participated in the 2016 student survey. According to the school district’s website, RECMS is a program for sixth- through eighth-graders. The goal of faculty and administrators “is to prepare students for the rigor and expectations of high school and college”, and to help those students develop the “skills, habits, and attitudes that will allow them to become successful students, and eventually, successful adults in the workforce.”

Many of those students then advance to Youngstown Early College, where they have the opportunity to work toward associate degrees while still in high school.

RECMS, located on the Chaney Campus on South Hazelwood Avenue on the West Side, is also participating in a three-year pilot program in collaboration with Mahoning County Juvenile Court, aimed at deterring truancy and preventing dropout by identifying students who struggle with attendance, behavior and grades.

That is impressive, and kudos to principal Deborah DiFrancesco and all the teachers for achieving this accomplishment.

A few days later, this newspaper reported the district’s early-childhood learning programs at William Holmes McGuffey Elementary School earned a five-star rating from the state.

The school district participates in the Step Up to Quality rating system. The rating recognizes and promotes programs that meet “quality standards program standards as well as exceed health and safety requirements.”

Here’s another fact you may not know: Preschools at Choffin Career and Technical Center and Martin Luther King, Harding and Paul C. Bunn already have been awarded the five-star rating.

Speaking of preschool, the school district now has all-day preschool, five days a week. Preschool is available for all 3- to 5-year-olds who live in the district.

Alta Head Start is the district’s partner in the all-day preschool initiative. There is no cost to families for their children to attend. State funding allowed the district to expand its preschool program.

To register, call Melissa Puhalla in the early-childhood office at 330-744-7325.

Finally, McGuffey Elementary’s K-Club (Key Club), composed of 25 children in grades four through six, gave away boxes of food to families during the holiday season, and donated more food to the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley.

And there is also the district’s Young Scholars Program, open to students in grades eight through 11 who can earn a $15,000-plus scholarship per year for four years to Ohio State University.

The program targets first-generation, academically inclined students who need financial help to enter and stay in college.

Students must be self-motivated, complete an academically rigorous college-preparatory curriculum, maintain a minimum 3.3 grade point average and attend the program’s required meetings and workshops.

A program information session will take place from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Choffin, 200 E. Wood St.

Yes, there is dysfunction in the district, but there are also some great programs, talented teachers and administrators, and students who are making a difference in the schools and the community.

As a new year begins, let us remember to encourage those students who are determined to beat the odds and who could become our city, state and nation’s future leaders.

Youngstown schools have produced some successful lawyers, judges, doctors and entrepreneurs over the years. There is no reason that cannot continue happening in the future.

Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly minority-affairs column. Contact him at