A safe haven for scholars to succeed

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 BELL’s after-school program 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 BELL 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 BELL,” 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 BELL, 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. BELL reassures me that the only thing that is going on is within these walls."

Joseph has been attending BELL’s after-school program since the 6th grade, and both siblings attend the summer program. BELL 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. 

BELL’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 BELL. 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. BELL’s impact even extends to families who have never heard of the program. “I invite my neighbors to workshops,” she says. “BELL 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

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. 


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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.


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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.