Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL)

Helping students avoid the “summer slide”

Rubia Ferreira and her daughter, Bianca, at BELL’s summer program at Georgian Forest Elementary School in Silver Spring. Photo by Liz Lynch.


During a summer program run by the nonprofit Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) at Georgian Forest Elementary School in Silver Spring, there are about as many kids in class with student Bianca Ferreira as during the school year. But there are two instructors instead of one. That means more opportunities to ask questions—and ask she does.

The 10-year-old moved to Silver Spring from Brazil about three years ago, and her English is so good that her summer teachers didn’t realize right away that Portuguese was Bianca’s first language. Some basic words still stumped her, but the smaller student-teacher ratio in the BELL program enabled her to get the clarification she needed to be better prepared for fifth grade.

“I’m impressed with how [Bianca’s] focused and always asking questions. She’s driven,” says teaching assistant Yvette Bobb of Burtonsville.

Bianca was one of about 200 students in the five-week summer program at Georgian Forest, one of 11 operated by BELL in Montgomery County, serving about 1,900 students heading into grades 3-5. BELL, whose local headquarters are in Rockville, is a national organization that also operates after-school programs.

The aim of the full-day summer program is to prevent the “summer slide,” a tendency for students to lose academic gains achieved during the previous school year. Students are from Title I schools and/or homeless, with priority given to those who test in the lowest quarter of their class.

“It’s courageous to be here in the summer to learn and put your all into it, and that’s what we are asking our scholars to do every day,” says Christine Miller, program manager at Georgian Forest.

In the morning, students spend 90 minutes on math and 90 minutes on reading and language arts. Instructors, who are mostly teachers and teaching assistants from Montgomery County Public Schools, also lead activities geared toward affirming the students and building community—talking about feelings, goals and aspirations. In the afternoon, students participate in two enrichment activities.

Bianca says she liked “College Day,” during which kids were encouraged to think about possible schools and careers. Her mother, Rubia, who went to college in Brazil to become a teacher but didn’t finish, says she reminds Bianca every day of the importance of attending college. She says the summer program helped her daughter become a stronger student. “I could see she learned so much and she made new friends,” Rubia says. “BELL helped her grow.”