On Monday, August 28th, Brooklyn Emerging Leaders Academy (BELA) welcomed its inaugural ninth grade class. BELA is an all girls public charter school located in Bed-Stuy that aims to empower young women and ensure that each student enrolls and graduates from college.
I visited BELA for the first time last Friday, eager to learn more about their mission, curriculum and culture after hearing about their progressive practice from friends and colleagues. The school’s co-founders, Nicia Fullwood and Shannon Riley, graciously welcomed me to BELA to meet the staff and tour the school just days before their official launch.
The BELA staff is a diverse group of women dedicated to enriching the lives of young women through rigorous academic scholarship, leadership development, and community building. The school offers a unique program that integrates a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculum with the Humanities in order to prepare their students for college. They offer classes such as Digital Media Literacy, Wellness and Ethnic Studies while also offering IB courses to provide their students with the opportunity to earn college credits. During my visit, I was able to chat with a few BELA educators who provided more insight into their courses:
Wellness takes on multiple meanings at BELA—rather than simply providing physical education and traditional sex ed courses, the school offers a comprehensive wellness course that integrates physical, mental and emotional wellness practices. On alternating days, the students will have an opportunity to learn yoga and dance as well as learn about sexual health, gender and identity.
The Ethnic Studies course is a humanities class that integrates English, Government and Economics to explore identity and ethnography. The curriculum will focus on the local history of Bed-Stuy as well as the lived experiences of each student to further analyze the meaning of identity. The class has been designed by three educators with various content backgrounds including english, art, and history who are committed to providing a liberatory education for their girls.
As BELA enters their first year in operation, they will be serving a need for local, culturally responsive education in Bed-Stuy. BELA serves as a reminder for the progressive practice that can take shape when passionate individuals have the opportunity to team up and design a new vision for education. These “standalone” charters—charter schools that are not part of a larger, management organization—embody the original vision of charter schools, which was to act as educational laboratories where teachers could experiment with innovative teaching methods. Although some groups and individuals have taken the charter idea in a corporate direction, there are many notable standalone charter schools that should be recognized for their genuine commitment to providing high quality education for all students.
I look forward to seeing how the BELA journey unfolds—wishing the BELA community a beautiful first day and successful year one!