A nonprofit founded in 1992

WCCB: Summer Program Helps Students Stay on Course

By Will Kennedy & Photojournalist Terrence Walker
Published August 5, 2015

CHARLOTTE, NC -- Charlotte's Project LIFT is working year round to help kids from disadvantaged neighborhoods get ahead, while staying out of trouble.

The public-private partnership with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools uses year-round schooling, non-traditional teaching and a dynamic summer program that takes learning seriously, while having some fun.

"I love the hands-on like teaching and stuff like that," says Ranson Middle School student Jakena King.

You can see, and feel, the excitement for learning as Ranson Middle School, Project LIFT and the BELL Program partner for a summer enrichment session for at-risk students.

"Much of the learning is actually lost during the summer," says program manager Monica Pitt. "BELL provides that ongoing, continuous intellectual stimulations throughout the summer. So kids won't experience that loss, and they're better prepared for the school year."

The BELL Program provides opportunities for students in under-resourced areas. The program runs for six weeks, giving their "scholars" a safe haven as they prepare for the new school year.

"In the AM hours we have academic sessions, where scholars are immersed in reading and math," says Pitt. "And then they transition to enrichment courses in the afternoon."

That enrichment includes courses in the culinary arts, physical movement, social justice and empowerment, and creative writing. No making up classes from the previous year, but plenty of academic challenge.

"It's ravioli, and then chicken on top of the ravioli," says Ranson student Xavier Villegas, describing a dish he created. "And then we sauteed the pineapples."

Villegas is a Rising Ranson seventh grader with his sights set on being a chef. He's put in perfect attendance this summer.

"We do reading and math too, so it helps for the next grade and prepare for it," says Xavier.

It's not summer school, and it's not summer camp.

"But it still has that really fun, attractive element that keeps scholars wanting to come every day," says Pitt.

"During the day, when we do academics, we'll be scholars," says King, a rising eighth grader. "But at the end of the day, we're always kids."

Students are assessed at the beginning of the BELL session, then again in the final week. 94 percent of the kids reached the program's goal of at least one month's academic growth.