Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), Montgomery County and the Rales Foundation will partner to launch a summer learning program for low-income second and third graders next year.
The BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) program will launch in the summer of 2016 and expand educational opportunities for more than 1,000 second and third graders each year for four years. The program will ultimately serve 4,200 MCPS students.
The idea to introduce the high-quality BELL program to MCPS was the brought to the community by Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro.
“I am incredibly grateful to Councilmember Nancy Navarro and Josh Rales and the Rales Foundation for their leadership in helping to make this program a reality for our children,” said Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill. “This kind of partnership between our schools, the Rales Foundation and the County government will provide our children with support this summer to ensure that learning continues during the summer months.”
The program will address the “summer slide,” the tendency for students, especially those from low-income families, to lose achievement gains made during the school year. BELL will deliver a summer learning program that will work to narrow the achievement gap, help students perform better in school and transition from grade to grade successfully.
“The BELL program will help us stay focused on closing the achievement gap and go a long way toward continuing to improve student performance in literacy and mathematics,” said MCPS Chief Academic Officer Maria Navarro. “We believe this is the beginning of a strong partnership.”
Funding to launch the program is being provided by the Montgomery County Council ($750,750); the Norman R. Rales and Ruth Rales Foundation ($475,375), and other local fundraising ($375,000). The Children’s Opportunity Fund, a newly created public-private initiative that will work to close the achievement gap, will also help structure the program in its first year.
The BELL program will operate 6.5 hours a day, five days a week, for six weeks in the summer. Small group instruction will focus on literacy, science, math/technology, arts and health. BELL also offers breakfast and lunch each day, and includes hands-on enrichment opportunities, field trips and community service projects. Increasing parental involvement is another critical component of the program. BELL would employ more than 100 MCPS certified teachers and teaching assistants.
The BELL program has served more than 100,000 students nationwide since 1992. Its programs, currently available in Maryland, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Ohio, are data-driven, rigorous and enriching. They are designed to serve students in grades K–8 who are performing below grade level. BELL seeks to increase students’ literacy and math skills; strengthen self-confidence and social skills, and see parents become more engaged in their children’s educations.
A study conducted by the Urban Institute, a nationally respected Washington, D.C. think tank, found that BELL’s program model has been shown to improve the reading skills of low-performing elementary schoolchildren in New York and Boston.
BELL is named in honor of Derrick A. Bell, Jr., Harvard University’s first African American tenured law professor.