Alumni Spotlight

Kourtney Lewis, BELL Class of 2003

They knew that I was different from other students and that school wasn't a challenge for me, but they couldn't do anything for me.

Subject to low expectations and unchallenging coursework, many lower-income students with the ability to excel languish in their schools for years, performing well below their potential. Too often, these students never rise to achieve at top levels. Kourtney Lewis' story illustrates what can happen when such students are challenged to perform at the highest level.

Although she always believed she was academically talented, Kourtney's performance did not place her anywhere near the top of her class. She spent first, second, and third grades at a public school in her neighborhood, where she felt that her teachers were ill-equipped to feed her curiosities. "When I was in elementary school, my teachers didn't push me,"˜ she says. "They knew that I was different from other students and that school wasn't a challenge for me, but they couldn't do anything for me."

At the age of 10, Kourtney transferred to a new school district as part of Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO), a voluntary desegregation program. The move ultimately afforded Kourtney opportunities she never had at her local school. Her new school district had a smaller student-to-teacher ratio and provided more resources per student than Kourtney's neighborhood school.

When she arrived at her new school, Kourtney was placed in a remedial program. For a student who craved greater intellectual challenge and stimulation, being in remedial education was difficult. "When I was in the remedial class, I wanted to be independent and I wanted to learn more, which made it really hard for me." 

It took the help of her mother, a mentor, and BELL Summer to move Kourtney from the remedial program into advanced courses, where she has since excelled. With high expectations from those around her, positive adult role models, and the lessons and skills she learned in BELL, Kourtney now says, "I know what I have to do to get an A." Her grades and writing skills earned her a spot in a college-preparatory program that provides a college scholarship and adult mentor for participants.

And Kourtney has found earning top marks not just possible but probable. As an eighth grader, Kourtney was elected president of her class, and in 2006, she was recognized by METCO for earning the highest grade point average of all students in her grade in the Boston-area program.

Now in her sophomore year at a public high school in Lincoln, Massachusetts, Kourtney has her sights set on attending Stanford University or an historically black college or university when she graduates. She wants to pursue a career in law and work on behalf of social justice.