Elijah Caraway, a third-grader attending the Building Education Leaders for Life summer program, doesn’t mind giving up most of his summer.
He enjoys reading, his favorite subject in school, and was looking forward to seeing the play Aladdin as part of the program.
Elijah and about 150 other students go to class 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays at Grand Oak Elementary. They are in the Read to Achieve program through BELL, which fights the summer brain drain and helps students who struggle to reach state proficiency levels.
BELL has a similar program in 11 other schools across Mecklenburg County.
The students at Grand Oak focus on literacy in the morning, and then Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in the afternoons. They even have special events like going to Discovery Place.
BELL was started in the 1990s by law students at Harvard University to increase opportunities for minority students. The students named the program after the first tenured black professor at Harvard, Derrick Bell.
The program started in the Charlotte area in 2009 with 60 students. It has grown to over 1,000. For BELL, Charlotte is now its largest city, with more students attending the program than in New York or Boston.
It is one of the organizations contracted by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to increase students’ reading ability and lessen the effects of the summer brain drain.
Brain drain describes how some students lose much of what they learned during the summer months. The program helps students by giving them more attention during the school year. BELL puts an assistant in each classroom, and the bus drivers double as a third adult in classrooms.
The program is free to the attendees and includes breakfast, lunch and field trips. Each site also completes a service project.
“Scholars do something to give back to their communities,” said executive director for North Carolina, Jerri Haigler.
At Grand Oak, they will collect cans for Second Harvest Food Bank.
Last summer, over half of all students showed significant academic growth. The program also had an 85 percent attendance rate. Latresha Wilson, the program manager at Grand Oak, says a lot of this has to do with the commitment BELL has to ensuring success. The program hires third-party review boards to ensure progress.
“There has been increased achievement since BELL took over,” Wilson said.
Tyler Fleming, 704-358-5355, @tyler_fleming96