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Gaining an EDGE

The innovation of Exceptional Education at Erie 1 BOCES took a big step forward in September when the EDGE Academy opened its doors to students.EDGE logo

The EDGE Academy is an alternative education program for high school students with a complete curriculum. While making progress toward their Regents diploma, students will explore and choose from five different pathways: art, business, Career and Technical Education (CTE), drama and music. The pathways are designed for students to find their passion in a supportive environment and help them succeed in obtaining their education.

“EDGE was designed to give the alternative student pathways to explore,” said Robert Boccaccio, principal of the EDGE Academy. “The type of kid we get here isn’t of a traditional sense. This is a kid where school may not be working for them and they may enjoy the arts, music, or business fields better than their traditional core classes. They may be kids that are school avoiders or kids that have some sort of trauma in their backgrounds, so their home district decides to send them to a more alternative school.”

Students in the program spend their first two years getting a feel for those five different pathways. For their final two years of high school study, they’ll choose one to focus in on. All of the pathways will be housed directly at the EDGE Academy, with the only exception being the CTE pathway. Students who want to study under one of the 20 CTE programs offered by Erie 1 BOCES will do so at the Harkness Career and Technical Center.

But the program doesn’t just offer that unique innovation of tailoring to the individual. It offers the necessary resources for each teacher, pathway and student to succeed. Students are getting the benefit of individualized counseling, having social workers on staff and top-notch class materials, while teachers are getting the support and time needed to succeed at their jobs.

“A lot of resources have been dedicated to make this program work,” said Boccaccio. “Moving programming to this building made [alternative education] more centrally located and also allowed us to re-envision and jumpstart this program. For instance, we just ordered ukuleles for our music class to bring something new to them in that program. We have 3D printer up in the art room now. We also have more teachers along those pathway lines now. We have a half-time business teacher and another full-time art teacher. We’ve really put resources around making students interested in these pathways.

“I think teachers are feeling appreciated and that they have the resources to do the job they need to in terms of the different pathways,” he added. “We also changed our bell schedule to provide that common plan time for teachers to talk about student outcomes, struggles they may be having with certain students, and to see what’s working and what’s not. When we look at countries like Finland and the other Scandinavian countries, we see they’re knocking it out of the park in terms of education because they spend more time planning.”

Boccaccio says that students are adapting well to the program, despite there being a mix between old and new students to alternative education.

“We’ve never had an enrollment at this level in the last few years," he said. "here’s a lot of new kids who didn’t know what the program was prior to this year. Change for anyone is difficult, but we’ve seen the kids quickly adapt. Students are coming around to being here and it’s such a positive that we’re centrally located unlike in the past."photo of EDGE Academy

Students like Hannah Biniaizeski say they’re doing much better under this program as opposed to their old school. Binaizeski also attributes her newfound success to the tight-knit community fostered with the halls of the EDGE Academy.

“I’m doing a lot better with this program [at] this school than I did with my old school,” she said. “By now, I’d be failing a lot of classes at my old school, but now I’m passing everything with an 85 [percent] or above. I didn’t fit in with my old school and I don’t have to worry about that here.”

Faith Pellici, another student at EDGE, also attests to that sense of community.

“It’s a little smaller but I like it,” she said. “Everybody has seen a lot here and have gone through a lot of the same things as you. We can all be here for each other.”

Boccaccio believes that the program has already been a success and that this is the future for the field of alternative education. He said that as the field continues heading in the direction of tailoring for each individual, it will succeed at ever-improving levels.

“I think the future of alternative education is really thinking about the individual,” he said. “I think we’ve taken the step in the right direction by thinking about what makes each individual tick. Every alternative education kid is different, and we’ve taken the right step in offering five different pathways, but I think until we meet the needs of each individual, we haven’t quite arrived to where we need to be. But, we’ve done a lot in the positive.”

EDGE - which stands for Explore, Develop, Grow and Experience, is located at 1635 East Delavan Avenue in Cheektowaga. To learn more, contact Boccaccio at

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