Belmont Charter School– Meeting the Needs of Its Community
12 years ago Belmont Elementary School was the 7th worst performing public elementary school in the city of Philadelphia with only 2.5% of students scoring Proficient on the PSSA in math and 6.3% scoring proficient in Reading. One walk through the neighborhood of Belmont and you could visibly see the effect poverty was having on its landscape – dilapidated homes, broken glass littering the streets, and people struggling to make ends meet.
Facing a seemingly hopeless situation, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission decided to shut down Belmont Elementary School and reopen it as a charter school in partnership with the Community Education Alliance of West Philadelphia (CEAWP), a nonprofit social services organization created in direct response to the needs of the Belmont community. Belmont Charter School (BCS) became the first school district converted charter to serve a definitive catchment area. Instead of an application process which would bring in students from many different communities, all students who resided in the neighborhood of Belmont were automatically enrolled in the school. This was monumental because it truly made the school a representation of the community.
BCS has strived to become a focal point of the community – a place where children and their families can come together to receive the resources they need to improve the quality of their lives. BCS and CEAWP began developing and implementing a variety of new programs and social services at the school such as Head Start, Afterschool and Summer programming, and even opened a Wellness Clinic within the school. Additionally, through a partnership with the Department of Human Services, CEAWP staffed 4 full time social workers in the school to provide case management services to Belmont families. These initiatives enabled BCS to address the academic, social, and emotional needs of every student and family.
Over the course of the last 12 years, BCS has seen a 50.8% increase in students performing proficient in Math and a 42.1% increase in students performing proficient in Reading on the PSSA. More importantly, this once failing school has decreased student violent incidents by 95% and increased parent participation in the school by 90%. This, in turn, has begun to alter the landscape of Belmont as more families have moved in to the area and student enrollment has increased.
What we have learned at the Belmont Charter School is that every child, no matter what their socioeconomic background, has the potential to succeed. In order to do so, however, the student needs their social and emotional needs addressed. It is important for schools to form strong relationships with their communities, to acknowledge that each student has a specific set of needs, and to provide ways to meet those needs.