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      Progress report on Syracuseâ??s Say Yes to Education program

      Jaquiel Ash is on the right path and he credits the Say Yes to Education program. He's a graduate of Syracuse City Schools and now thriving at Monroe Community College.

      "Ultimately it gave me a chance for a new life," Ash said. "It placed me in a new environment; otherwise I don't know exactly where I would have been, or what I would have been destined to do."

      The founder of the program, George Weiss, came to Syracuse Wednesday to provide a report of how Say Yes to Education is doing.

      The program, which is four years old, provides support services to Syracuse City School District students to increase graduation rates. It also provides scholarships.

      Weiss says there's a lot to be proud of. According to their data, the number of students dropping out after 9th grade decreased 44% from 2009 to 2010. More 9th grade students are also passing the algebra regents exam. 9th grade is seen as a crucial year in whether students graduate or not.

      "What it says is there's a message of hope," George Weiss says. "Kids are realizing there's an alternative to dropping out."

      Superintendent of Schools Sharon Contreras says the program provides support to the schools that they could never provide on its own.

      "I think many of our students come to school at a disadvantage, not at the same level as their more affluent middle class peers. So this program, this model, tries to bridge the gap," Contreras said. "So we address their social, emotional needs, academic needs, and make sure they go and graduate from college."

      The Say Yes to Education program is now expanding its young author series into five Syracuse schools. In the coming year, elementary and middle school students will partner up with Syracuse University illustration students to produce new books. Eight books have been published since Say Yes to Education began.

      "I think it is tremendous in raising their self esteem and helping them to know they can do anything and be anything," Contreras said.