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Winston-Salem Chronicle: A New Way - WS/FCS Offering Unique Summer Learning Option

WINSTON-SALEM, NC - 04.05.12 - This summer, local middle and elementary students will get the chance to improve their academic standings and have a little fun along the way.

A newly-formed partnership between Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and Dorchester, Mass. -based BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), a national nonprofit and after school and summer enrichment program provider is making that possible.

The school system will host a comprehensive five-week summer learning program for underserved students in grades K-8, by utilizing BELL's enrichment model and supplemental funding from the organization.

"Our mission as a national nonprofit is to transform the academic achievement and self confidence…of children who live in predominantly underserved areas," explained Joe Small, vice president of School and Government Partnerships for BELL. "This will be a high quality program. We're really excited about getting this project underway."

The program will be offered at no cost to students, or scholars, as BELL refers to them, and includes free breakfast and lunch for participants. "Scholars" will spend the first half of their day engaged in academic activities. The latter part of the day is dedicated to enrichment programs.

The program is open to all students, but the school system is most interested in those who scored one or two points (our of a possible four) on End of Grade tests, explained Cheryl Wright, lead teacher of Summer School and After School Programs for WS/FCS. A limited number of slots will be given to each school based on those scores, Wright added. The system offered a similar program on its own last year to students in grades 3,5, and 8. The partnership has allowed the system to extend the day by an hour, the program by two weeks and include enrichment opportunities like "Field Trip Fridays" at no additional cost, Wright said.

"It's giving them an opportunity to get the academics in, but also to have an enriching experience," said the Appalachian State University alumna. "It's more bang for our buck, so to speak."

The partnership is one of only two BELL is currently engaged in statewide. It began offering programs in Charlotte in 2009. Small says the organization hopes to expand its reach in North and South Carolina in the coming years. The organization, which is celebrating its 20th year, targets students - often from lower income backgrounds - who don't have access to enrichment opportunities such as summer camps and vacations. Research has shown those students suffer a much higher rate of "summer learning loss" and therefore begin the subsequent year at a deficit compared to their peers who do have access to summer enrichment, Small said.

"What they've found is that if all things are equal in the classroom during the regular school year, the difference occurred during the summer," said the Boston, Mass. native. "We can actually close the achievement gap by reversing summer learning loss and actually producing academic gains."

The summer learning program will also benefit the local economy, by hiring teachers and teacher's aides who are off during the summer months, Small said.

BELL holds its scholars to a higher standard, and teachers often report big changes in the students' attitudes towards learning when the youngsters return to school, he added.

"One of the benefits is the academic self-esteem of the scholars themselves when we set the right expectations of the students," he stated. "That's why we call them scholars. If we treat them like scholars, they will rise to the occasion."

For more information about the summer learning program, contact Wright at 748-4000 ext. 34251 or cwright@wsfcs.k12.nc.us