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LAWRENCE -- Bellesini Academy, an independent Catholic, tuition-free middle school founded in 2002 to break the cycle of poverty through education, will open an all-girls school in September 2015. In its first year, the Academy will operate a 6th grade class of girls and eventually serve 60 girls in grades 5-8 who demonstrate academic promise and fall below the poverty line, following a co-institutional model with its boys school preparing at-risk girls from Lawrence for acceptance at private college preparatory high schools on scholarship. Applications were available starting Feb. 2.
Hispanic/Latino students comprise 90 percent of students in Lawrence. Hispanic girls have a higher high school dropout rate than girls in other racial or ethnic groups and are the least likely to earn a college degree, according to the American Association of University Women.
"There is a clear need for more educational opportunities for young, at-risk women in Lawrence," said Julie DiFilippo, the Head of School at Bellesini Academy.
"Hispanic/Latina girls in this city are facing significant challenges including the third highest teen pregnancy rate and third lowest female graduation rate in the state. They are least likely to be enrolled in preschool, have lower proficiency in math and reading, and exhibit high obesity rates. Bellesini Academy is making the development of girls in our community a top priority by providing an academically challenging and highly structured environment that develops the potential for each student to succeed in competitive secondary schools and colleges and beyond," she said.
Bellesini Academy will begin a "Building Brighter Futures for Women Campaign" to raise $1.3 million to build an addition to the existing school. The addition will include four classrooms for girls, science and computer labs and art room. Students will have single-sex classes and be located in separate sections of the building. The schools will share facilities, resources and faculty including gym, library, cafeteria, computer and an art space. The students will have some opportunities to interact at morning assembly, some enrichment programs, and school wide events.
In order to provide students with the extra support they require to achieve their potential, the Academy is in session 11 months a year, offering more than 2,000 hours of programming annually. Beyond its academic program, the school offers afternoon enrichment and recreational activities, supervised evening study, and a four week summer program in order to foster the personal and intellectual development of its students. Each school day includes nearly 12 hours of instruction, recreation, and academic support. This extended school day, which operates 11 months a year, brings the advantages enjoyed by suburban students to at-risk youth in the City of Lawrence. In addition, a High School Placement Program guides students through SSAT/HSPT preparation, admissions applications, admissions interviews, and financial aid applications. An Alumni Support Program helps graduates transition from Bellesini to high school and provides support services throughout high school and college.
Once complete with full enrollment, Bellesini Academy will serve 60 girls and 60 boys at an approximate cost of $9,500 per student per year. In comparison, Lawrence Public Schools spend approximately $13,000 per year to educate a student with nearly half the hours of instruction. Not one Bellesini alumnus has dropped out of high school, and 100 percent have gone on to graduate, compared to a 58 percent male graduation rate and a 66 percent female graduation rate in Lawrence Public Schools.
Information on how to apply to the school or support its mission is available at bellesiniacademy.org.