In 2001, a group of local community leaders joined together to respond to the severe crisis in education in the city of Lawrence, MA. During an eight month exploration, a steering committee conducted statistical research and held focus groups with local leaders, parents, and students. A feasibility study gathered data that confirmed the need for a school that would focus on the educational needs of at-risk boys in Lawrence:
- The graduation rate for Lawrence public high school students is just 66%—the eighth lowest graduation rate of any town or city in Massachusetts.
- College attendance in gateway cities such as Lawrence lags far behind other Massachusetts towns. It is estimated that just 14% of Lawrence students will graduate from high school on time and attend a four-year college. Only 10% of Lawrence residents 25+ have earned a bachelor’s degree.
- Once a thriving mill town, Lawrence lost more than half of its manufacturing jobs between 1960 and 2000 and has an unemployment rate that is double the state average. 87% of Lawrence students are low-income, compared to a statewide figure of 31%. Low-income students score lower on standardized tests, are five times more likely to drop out of high school, and only half of those who graduate from high school enroll in college.
- Just 44% of Lawrence students scored proficient on the 2014 English MCAS, while only 41% were proficient in math.
- Latino students, who comprise 90% of students in Lawrence, have the highest dropout rate of any ethnic group in Massachusetts and fall far behind other ethnic groups in college enrollment: Only 35% of Latino high school graduates attend college compared to 47% of whites and 41% of African-Americans.
- Lawrence has one of the highest concentrations of limited English proficient students in the state. English is a second language for 75% of Lawrence students, compared to a statewide figure of 17%.
Bellesini opened in 2002 with 26 boys in grades five and six. Each subsequent year the school added one grade, growing to its full capacity of grades five through eight in the 2004-2005 school year, and graduating its first class of eighth grade students in June 2005. The Academy has seen tremendous growth since it opened twelve years ago. The Academy has expanded to serve a maximum of 60 students in grades five through eight and also provides support services to more than 100 alumni in high school and college. The Academy also completed a two-phase capital renovation campaign which transformed the former St. Francis church building into a permanent state-of-the-art home for the school.
After a decade of helping young men reach their full potential, the Academy’s leadership began to consider how the school could broaden its impact on the Lawrence community. Specifically, the board of trustees focused on the need for more educational opportunities for the 2,500 middle school girls living in Lawrence. Responding to a need and an opportunity to serve more students, the Academy opened a Girls’ School in September 2015, serving one class of 6th grade students and adding one additional class each of the following three years. By the 2018-19 school year, the Academy will serve a total of 120 students, with 60 students in the boys school and 60 students in the girls school. Bellesini was fortunate to have received a $100k for 100 grant from the Cummings Foundation in support of the opening of the Girls’ School.