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Mission & History: BELL is a national nonprofit organization that exists to transform the academic achievements, self-confidence, and life trajectories of children living in under-resourced, urban communities. BELL was founded in 1992 as a grassroots organization by Harvard Law School students and has since evolved into a high performing nonprofit offering rigorous afterschool and summer learning solutions to the nation's most troubled schools. A national leader in expanded learning time opportunities, BELL reaches 15,000 children in elementary and middle schools in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, and California. BELL has been recognized by the White House and by Fast Company Magazine, among others, for our innovative impact on local communities.
Community Served: BELL provides its educational programs to children who are performing below grade-level and who live in under resourced communities. When entering BELL programs, children are 1.2 years below grade level. During the summer, they tend to fall further behind, losing two months' grade-equivalent skills. Such academic under-performance early in a child's schooling dramatically increases their risk of failing and later dropping out of school. Some states even use third grade academic performance data to predict the number of prison beds they will need in the following decade. By providing educational opportunities after school and during the summer, BELL transforms children into scholars who are proficient in reading, writing and math, and puts them onto a path to college.
Programs: BELL operates two programs in a year-round effort to help children excel. BELL After School operates 3-5 days per week, three hours per day in school-based sites. BELL Summer operates five days per week, eight hours per day, for 5-6 weeks. BELL programs set high expectations for scholars and include elements that are proven to increase their time-on-task and accelerate learning, including academic tutoring in literacy and math; mentorship from young teachers and college students; experiential learning through cultural activities, field trips and community service; parental involvement; and ongoing training and professional development for staff.
Measuring Success: BELL rigorously monitors program quality and evaluates scholars' academic and social gains by using standardized tests, skills-based quizzes, and a series of operating metrics. An innovative web-based assessment system provides BELL educators with individualized lesson plans and progress reports to share with parents, teachers and principals. BELL's use of data to drive academic instruction and continually improve program quality has been nationally recognized as a model of best practices. In 2006, BELL worked with the Urban Institute and Mathematica Policy Research to complete a two-year study of the BELL Summer Program's impact on children's reading skills. In comparing the performance of BELL scholars against students not enrolled in BELL, researchers found "scientifically rigorous evidence regarding the ability of the BELL Summer program to improve the reading skills of low-performing elementary school children."