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Social Capitalists: BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life)

43 entrepreneurs who are changing the world
Social Capitalist 2008 Winner

BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life)

Earl Martin Phalen, CEO
Dorchester, MA
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BELL’s mission is to increase the academic achievements, self-esteem and life opportunities for children living in low-income, urban communities. Our vision for transforming public education is simple: traditionally, the school year operates for about 180 days, September through June, about 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. Most afternoons, children hang out. They take the summer off. But millions of children, mostly in low-income communities, are not learning core academic skills they need to succeed and excel. The amount and/or style of academic instruction is not adequate to prepare children to attain meaningful careers, improve their standard of living, and strengthen their communities. When compared to children in other “developed” nations who attend school for 20, 40, even 60 additional days, and for longer hours each day, American children receive two to three years’ less learning time!

BELL views out-of-school-time, particularly during the summer, as a critical opportunity to help children excel. Time is available for learning; teachers are available to teach; local college students serve as outstanding tutors, role models and mentors; schools and all of their resources are generally available. BELL has leveraged these community resources to provide transformative educational experiences to more than 30,000 children in Baltimore, Boston and New York City since 1992.

To bring about equilibrium change, BELL believes that high-quality educational opportunities like BELL Summer must be made available to all children when school is not in session. When all children have access to high-quality, affordable, and convenient programs in their communities, and focus more time-on-task, student performance trends will improve. The impact will be felt most in communities where children have few, if any, options for summer enrichment. Graduation rates will increase. Human capital will grow. Communities will be stronger. And inequalities stemming from inadequate and ineffective educational opportunities will diminish.

Quality: In BELL programs, “scholars” excel. Last year, 100% of children entering BELL Summer and BELL After School at the “failing” level, according to standardized diagnostic test results, advanced to a higher proficiency level. More than 80% of BELL scholars achieve “proficient” or “advanced” levels in core reading, writing and math skills. In the six-week BELL Summer program, scholars gained at least 4 months’ grade-equivalent skills. And a recent independent, scientific evaluation of BELL Summer demonstrated that children achieve significant, positive gains in academic skills.

Scale and Impact: Last year, BELL educated 7,500 scholars in Baltimore, Boston and New York City. This year, BELL is serving more than 10,000 scholars. BELL is exploring several opportunities to replicate and scale its educational programs in new regions such as Detroit, Chicago, and Oakland. And it is developing a network model through which partner organizations operate the BELL model in their communities, enabling the rapid, national expansion of the BELL Summer model and impact.

Collaboration: During the summer of 2007, BELL launched an innovative public-private partnership with the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS). BCPSS selected BELL to provide its summer learning program to 2,000 children in the city’s lowest-performing, “Area 9” schools, and provided part of the funding for the pilot. The partnership was successful, with BELL scholars achieving significant gains in academic and social skills. Its impact accelerated the expansion of the BELL After School program in the city as well.

Policy: Congress passed the STEP UP Act, part of the America COMPETES legislation. STEP UP, drafted by Senators Barack Obama and Barbara Mikulski, creates a federal funding stream to provide high-quality summer learning opportunities to thousands of children. BELL’s program and outcomes informed the development of the legislation, which specifically cited BELL Summer as a national model of excellence.

To learn more about BELL’s mission and vision for children and education, please visit our website or contact Lester Strong at