Creating community in the classroom


When third, fourth and fifth-grade scholars enter Nancy Kelly’s classroom after school, they enter a dynamic environment of high expectations, open communication, and hands-on learning in mathematics. She goes beyond the usual worksheets and workbooks, introducing scholars to a new math experience involving fun games that require collaboration and strategy.

Yet for Ms. Kelly, who has been an elementary school teacher for over 20 years, and a BELL instructor since 2012, BELL’s biggest impact boils down to relationships. “To me, the key to learning is really based on relationships. They are connecting with me and I think when children connect with their teacher, they want to do well," she says. During the regular school day, Ms. Kelly teaches fourth-grade math. During BELL’s after-school program, she teaches math to third, fourth and fifth-graders, in separate clusters, enabling her to develop relationships with past, current, and future scholars.

Third-graders are introduced to Ms. Kelly’s expectations and teaching style, which will make their transition into fourth-grade much smoother, and with less jitters. “Now, I’m lucky enough to create relationships with 20 children that I wouldn’t know until they walked through the door, short of seeing them in the hallway,” she said. “So, they know me now. They know my style. I feel so blessed to be able to build those relationships a year early.”

This connection is clearly making a positive difference in the classroom. Scholars are willing to take risks, feeling safe to make mistakes and to learn from them, she says.  “Third-grade scholars get a head start,” Ms. Kelly says. “If they can come to me next year and be fluent in their multiplication facts, math will be so much easier for them. They will already have these skills in their toolkit, and will be ready to go.”

Ms. Kelly says BELL helps fourth grade scholars fine-tune their math skills in the evening, so they are better prepared for the subject matter the next school day. BELL scholars also become leaders in their classrooms, and stronger partners with their peers who are not part of the BELL program. “The kids that go to BELL are just a little more prepared than the kids who do not go to BELL,” she says. “It builds their self-confidence to say, 'I did this and remember doing this, and now I’m ready to help my friend who is seeing it for the first time.'”

BELL enables Ms. Kelly to nurture her relationship with fifth-graders and refine their academic skills one more year. It also empowers the older scholars to help their younger peers. Learning together with younger students creates a symbiotic relationship and sense of community where scholars learn from each other, depending on their individual stage of learning. “They can help the fourth-graders maneuver problems. They have had more exposure.”

While academic improvement is a key focus of the program, Ms. Kelly believes enrichment activities are just as important. “Those life skills of getting along, and working out our troubles. These are the skills that you take beyond the moment,” she says. “Very few jobs are done in isolation. Building that is huge. They don’t just carry that in the BELL program, they carry it in their day, in the playground, at home, and elsewhere.”

Stories of Impact

Make sure to check in from time to time as Beyond will evolve throughout the year, with new stories of impact.

Breaking barriers through Taekwondo.

Thanh Ly, a third grade scholar, has found her inner strength and voice through Taekwondo enrichment. One kick at a time, she is gaining skills and applying them in the classroom, and in life.


A safe haven for scholars to succeed.

Violence is a topic all too familiar to Daniel Brown's family. So when she heard of BELL, she quickly enrolled her children, joining a growing group of parents who see BELL as a safe haven for scholars to blossom. 


Serving a growing family, one scholar at a time.

With three scholars enrolled in BELL, and a fourth child on the way, BELL provides the Castillos with peace of mind, enabling them to work extra hours to provide a solid foundation for their family.


Creating community in the classroom.

Scholar success boils down to relationships, says Nancy Kelly, a fourth grade math teacher. Through BELL, she is nurturing stronger relationships with her current students, and forging new ones with her future class.


Dad: Parent involvement is key to success.

Parental engagement, a key variable in BELL’s equation for scholar success, comes to life in this feature story. “If fathers are not involved, that’s a problem,” Mr. Bishop says.


Former scholar. Current leader.

Follow Tanisha's journey from a fifth grade BELL scholar to a key BELL staff member. Now, as a mother, she is applying her learnings from BELL and changing her daughter Sirhye's life trajectory.