Forming the Future: Bellesini Academy supports students through after-school programming
LAWRENCE -- Bellesini Academy's school days are long by design. Students come for breakfast in the morning, stay for after-school activities, and return in the evenings to study -- and they wouldn't have it any other way.
Bellesini Academy is a tuition-free school for grades five through eight, founded in 2002 as a Nativity model school. The Jesuits created this model based on the philosophy that education eliminates the cycle of poverty.
Bellesini started as an all-boys school, but in 2015 they added a girls' school, adding one grade each year. Now, the boys' school and the girls' school each have 60 students in grades five through eight.
Julie DeFilippo, the founding principal of Bellesini Academy, spoke with The Pilot on Nov. 10. She said that often, cities do not have enough comprehensive activities for students this age that are affordable and convenient for their parents to bring them. Many of the students' parents speak languages other than English, and some work second or third shifts, so they may not be able or available to help their children with homework, she added.
"This (model) creates that opportunity for kids to participate in afternoon programs, and a place for them to do their homework in the evenings," DeFilippo said.
A variety of after-school activities are available in different areas of interest, including sports and fitness, arts and music, and STEM subjects. Among the many options are American Sign Language, chess, mock trial, and competitions like spelling bees and academic bowls. Different clubs and activities are offered each year, and students rotate between them four times a year.
"For individual students, I think having that academic piece and, then, that afternoon piece gives them the opportunity to experience some of those non-academic talents and to figure out what they're passionate about and what they love to do," DeFilippo said.
She added that the different activities also enable students to learn teamwork and social skills.
After their extracurricular activities, students are dismissed from school at 5 p.m. But three days a week, after a break for dinner, they return to the school for a two-hour supervised study period. This allows them to ask their teachers questions, receive individual tutoring, and learn good study habits in a quiet, safe environment.
Manuella, an eighth-grade student, said the evening study program is helpful to her because it provides things she may not have at home.
"I don't always have the necessary materials for a project, such as glue sticks and colored pencils, so coming to evening study provides me with these materials," she said.
The current director of the afterschool and evening study programs is Juan Cintron, who is himself an alum of Bellesini Academy. He graduated in 2012 and went on to attend Central Catholic High School in Lawrence and Rochester Institute of Technology. Looking back on his own time as a Bellesini student, Cintron credited the afterschool and evening study programs with giving him many opportunities.
"The after-school program helped me and my classmates become more well-rounded with fun, new activities. The evening study program was a perfect support system for my academics. I had all the help I needed, and my work was always done!" he said.
A key aspect of these programs is maintaining partnerships with different community organizations. Prior to the pandemic, Bellesini Academy students volunteered at the Cor Unum Meal Center, Lazarus House, and Mary Immaculate Nursing Center. Lawrence YMCA runs several programs for the school each year, including swimming lessons. Local high school and college students volunteer as tutors for students who need additional academic help.
"It's great to have college-age students and high school-age students doing some one-on-one tutoring with our students, and being role models for them," DeFilippo said.
When students stayed home at the onset of the pandemic, the staff continued holding after-school programs by adapting them to virtual formats. One teacher ran an online art class, and had students pick up art supplies to use at home. Another faculty member ran an online fitness class.
"With a greater appreciation for my time as a student here, running these programs so that our students are having a positive experience comes naturally. It brings me a lot of joy being able to be a positive influence for these students as they grow up. To say that it is fulfilling would be an understatement," Cintron said.
More information about Bellesini Academy is available on their website, bellesiniacademy.org.