A nonprofit founded in 1992

WLLP-22 News' Mass Appeal: Anokhee Dave and Carole Prest Discuss BELL Summer

DORCHESTER, MA - Their vision is for all children to excel. BELL, which stands for Building Educated Leaders for Life, exists to transform the lives of children living in under-resourced communities. Sharing more about the organization are Anokhee Dave, Deputy Director and Carole Prest, Chief Strategy Officer at BELL Springfield.

1) Why summer learning is important and its impact on the "achievement gap" for low income/under-resourced children.
It has been well documented that low income children typically lose 2-3 months of skills during the summer months while middle and upper income children gain skills. This is because middle and upper income students have summer learning opportunities that are not available to their low income peers (e.g. camps, travel, visits to the library, books to read at home, etc.). By the time students reach the 5th grade, low income students are often 2-3 years behind their middle income peers in terms of academic skills. This is called "the achievement gap" and academic researchers from Johns Hopkins University have shown that two-thirds of the achievement gap can be attributed to summer learning loss.

We believe at BELL that all children should benefit from high quality summer learning experiences and it is critically important to help the children most challenged during the school year. As a result, BELL has been partnering with Springfield Public Schools since 2008 to provide an award winning, high quality summer learning experience for children. This year, we are serving about 1,000 SPS students in grades 2-8 and close to 9,000 nationwide.

2) BELL summer learning is not your traditional "summer school." Here's how it is different:

  • The BELL program includes breakfast, lunch, 3 hours of academics and 2 hours of enrichment each day and lasts for 6 weeks compared to a typical summer school that is 2-4 weeks and just a few hours each day of academics. In the afternoons this year, BELL scholars are learning social skills development via a program called Lion's Quest and also taking a research-based, hands-on science class.
  • BELL is not a "punitive" program but rather a celebration of each child's potential.
  • On Friday's BELL students, whom we call "Scholars," also participate in field trips, visit college campuses, hear guest speakers and our Rising 9th graders have been able to job shadow in several of Springfield's businesses to expand their horizons and think about future career opportunities. One of our guest speakers this year will be Mayor Sarno. Othershave included Miss Western Massachusetts (Emma Gilbert), school committee members, lawyers, directors of local organizations, police officers, athletes etc. People whom the scholars can relate to as these are the local heroes who are making a difference in our community.
  • Examples of this year's field trips: CT Aviation Museum, Sturbridge, Village, Lupa Zoo, Wings in Deerfield, Basketball Hall of Fame, Museums, Amherst College, Westfield State College, UMass-Amherst, Holyoke Community College

3) BELL's outcomes:

  • The BELL program helps scholars achieve phenomenal gains. In previous summers, BELL scholars gained 8-9 months of skills in reading and math during the 6 week program. So, not only are they avoiding summer learning loss, they have working to close that achievement gap and start the new school year confident and ready to learn.
    BELL also measures social outcomes such as growth in scholars' self esteem and confidence and over 85% of parents and teacher observed noticeable gains. We also work to help parents become more engaged in their students' education and typically 85% or more of parents show increased involvement during the school year after they have experienced BELL.

4) How BELL is funded

BELL is a non-profit and so we can afford to offer this program totally free to parents thanks to a combination of funding sources. These include school system funding, Federal funds, national philanthropy and also contributions from Springfield foundations and corporations that include:

  • Community Foundation of Western MA
  • Mass Mutual
  • Liberty Mutual
  • Davis Foundation
  • Citizens Bank
  • AT&T
  • Yawkey Foundation

While BELL is able to serve 1,000 students in Springfield this year, making this our biggest program in Springfield yet, there are thousands more children who could benefit from BELL. So we encourage the citizens of Springfield to get engaged (https://www.experiencebell.org/engage) by volunteering, donating, and writing your school system and elected officials to make more funding available for quality summer programs like BELL.