A safe haven for success
At Booker T. Washington Middle School for the Arts in West Baltimore, violence is a topic students are all too familiar with. Last year alone, a 13-year-old middle school student and three students from the adjacent high school, lost their lives due to violence. According to a 2016 survey of 209 students from both schools, 43 percent said they witness physical violence one to three times per week, and more than 37 percent said they knew someone under the age of 19 who had been killed by violence.*
So, when Danielle Brown heard about BellXcel Afterschool at the same middle school she attended as a young girl, she seized the moment and enrolled her daughter Neaveha, 13, and son Joseph, 14. At that moment, she joined a growing number of parents who view BellXcel not only as an educational partner, but as a safe haven for their children to succeed.
The Brown family is a shining example of the power of perseverance in the face of steep challenges. They live in the heart of McCulloh Homes, a housing project next to the school, which is a setting for the HBO series “The Wire,” which depicts turf wars between rival gangs. A fatal shooting a few months back in broad daylight just steps from the Brown's doorstep served as a chilling reminder of the risks some scholars face after school.
“They would have been outside after school on a warm day, but rather than being out there, they were in BellXcel,” Ms. Brown says. “The program inhibits kids from leaving out and seeing fights after school or being at the corner store and being around drug dealers.”
According to a recent study, more than 15 million students— including approximately 3.7 million middle schoolers—are alone and unsupervised between 3 and 6 p.m., the peak hours for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs, and sex*. Rather than playing outdoors in an unsafe environment during these hours, Neaveha, Joseph and other scholars are immersed in academic, enrichment and sports activities.
"They know by the time they leave BellXcel, it’s ready to be dark and time to get home,” Ms. Brown says. “They’re getting school work and playtime done, and I know they’re safe. BellXcel reassures me that the only thing that is going on is within these walls."
Joseph has been attending BellXcel Afterschool since the 6th grade, and both siblings attend the summer program. BellXcel educators have earned their trust by listening, caring, and by providing a creative outlet to showcase their individual talents. Joseph is tapping into his artistic skills by designing posters for school events. Expressing his creativity and being recognized for it, has boosted his self-confidence. Neaveha enjoys dance, often leading performances.
BellXcel's enrichment activities have helped Neaveha develop stronger communication and problem-solving skills. “She works towards solving problems instead of blocking people out,” says Ms. Brown. “They’re both developing social skills and education skills. They’re getting balance.”
Ms. Brown herself is learning new life skills through BellXcel. She attended a six-week parenting workshop, where she learned strategies to help monitor her children’s social media usage and protect them from online predators. BellXcel's impact even extends to families who have never heard of the program. “I invite my neighbors to workshops,” she says. “BellXcel doesn't just stop with the kids they have here. If you have a 15-year-old, they will help you. They care about the community.”
* Source: Promise Heights - University of Maryland School of Social Work