As I was preparing for the last day of Beyond the Bell this year,
I found myself drawn back to January 2011 when Beyond the Bell didn't exist.
It is crazy humbling to think about the 43 Team Leaders and countless teachers, Beyond enrichment leaders, community partners and volunteers who have shared their time, passion, expertise and gifts with the more than 1,000 young people we have served since that time.
We have created a network of caring adults who are champions for young people, have broadened the definition of 'teacher', and who believe in the power and impact of an expanded learning day and increasing opportunity for ALL our young people. And who have helped our young people discover new interests, develop self-confidence and create a vision for their future that is filled with hope and belief.
I am more motivated than ever to continue building this network, and creating an entire pathway of out-of-school learning opportunities for our kids in Harrisonburg that level the playing field and empower and equip each of our young people to reach their full potential.
We need to do better. We need less talk and excuses and more action. We need to both prioritize better AND we need to invest more dollars in quality extended learning (pre-school, after-school and summer) opportunities that reach the students who need it most.
As Frederick Douglas once said, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."
I will show up to the last day of Beyond the Bell this year filled with pride, joy and gratitude for the transformative impact we have had on young people in our community and for how we have advanced the conversation about the need for quality extended learning opportunities.
I have faith that this is just the end of chapter one, not the book. #letsdothis
Mr. Brent Holsinger is the founder & director of Beyond the Bell and the author of this post.
Brent has led out of school time programs since 2006. First with Citizen Schools (2006-2010) followed by Beyond the Bell (2011-present). He has a M.Ed. with a specialization in out of school learning & leadership.
Four short weeks ago, Beyond the Bell was set on a path to quietly disappear completely from our schools at the end of this year with little fanfare, respect or regard for the time, talent and resources devoted by so many since 2010 to create this quality, middle school-based, out-of-school learning opportunity in Harrisonburg. And with this quiet departure, little attention would have been paid to the need for investment in quality out-of-school time programs for our community and student achievement.
Because of YOU and our collective efforts to make our presence known and our voice heard, this has CHANGED. Because of us, a very bright spotlight has shined down on out-of-school learning recently and has pushed Beyond the Bell and out-of-school learning to the forefront of educational conversations in our schools and community.
You want to watch something powerful?! Check out the video from the March 4th Harrisonburg City School Board meeting (watch minute 7:45-8:30) when more than 80+ young people, parents and community members stood in support of Beyond the Bell. This turnout came on the heels of two consecutive snow days! And what a beautiful thing to see the School Board meeting audience reflect the diversity of our schools and community. We are the change.
Our presence at the March 4th school board meeting was only the latest in a string of efforts that included a letter writing campaign, numerous pieces in the local media, and a presentation that included more than a dozen testimonials at the February 18th school board meeting.
WE ARE THE CHANGE.
Because of OUR efforts,
ONLY THE BEGINNING.
Despite the change WE have created, this is only the beginning because a 100+ people did not attend school board meetings and write countless letters for programs LIKE Beyond the Bell, but FOR Beyond the Bell, and the quality, in-depth, rigorous programming and long-lasting impact we represent. Beyond the Bell was developed in Harrisonburg City Schools, for the Harrisonburg City Schools, by Harrisonburg City Schools and JMU personnel, and is a proven out-of-school learning program that is now engaging hundreds of students and their families.
Many questions remain. Here are just a few of them:
WHERE WE GO FROM HERE.
Although the Harrisonburg City Schools budget has not been finalized yet, all indications point to Beyond the Bell NOT being funded by the School Board, despite the more than $4.1 million in grant funds that have led to the creation of this effective and highly valued program as well as having supported countless other HCPS out-of-school time efforts.
Quality out-of-school learning programs are essential to fulfilling our schools' promises of equity and excellence for ALL our young people. And, despite more attention being paid to this issue by Harrisonburg City Schools, much more is needed to ensure that the promised programs are high-quality and lead to long-lasting impact for our young people and their families.
As a key voice for a diverse and growing body of citizens who value quality, out-of-school learning opportunities for all students at all levels, but most especially middle school, Beyond the Bell will work to assure our schools keep the promises being made about new programs. Beyond the Bell will continue working with all in our community, including our School Board, Superintendent and school leaders, to ensure educational equity and opportunity for all.
Brent Holsinger, M.Ed.
"I need help with this math problem!" My favorite event in school is Beyond the Bell's Pride Time. You get help with your homework, learn new skills and you get help with your subjects.
First, you get help with your homework. If your stuck on a math problem and don't know what to do. Your Beyond the Bell teachers will save the day. They will help with the problem until you get it and understand it.
Second, you learn new skills. You get to take two enrichment classes- one for Wednesday and one for Thursday. These classes teach you new skills and are fun to take. Volunteers come from places around Harrisonburg to come and teach us.
Finally, they help you with your subjects. Lets say you are failing math. The Beyond the Bell teachers will help you until you get an A+. Maybe you got a D on your Science test. They will help you study for your next test so that you won't get another D.
My favorite school event is Pride Time. You get help with your homework, learn new skills and get help with your subjects. I hope Beyond the Bell will be a program at Thomas Harrison Middle School for a long time.
This blog post is written by Abril, a 5th grade student in Beyond the Bell at Thomas Harrison Middle School.
Parents, Faculty, Supporters, and Friends of Beyond the Bell,
What a joy it has been to build Beyond the Bell hand-in-hand with countless staff, volunteers and community partners into the leading out-of-school time program in the Harrisonburg City Public Schools (HCPS) in just a few short years. Our program model is grounded in the research that shows that consistent participation in quality programs leads to young people being more engaged with their learning, doing better in school, and more prepared and hopeful about their college/career options. We have served hundreds of young people for more time, supported working families, and engaged a wide-array of local professionals and community partners to teach about careers like web design, aviation and the arts.
Despite our success and reputation of positive impact in our schools and community, Beyond the Bell is at risk of completely disappearing at the end of this school year at Thomas Harrison Middle School without the support and financial backing of the Harrisonburg City School Board. This already happened last year at Skyline Middle and Smithland Elementary Schools.
Where We've Been
Beyond the Bell was created out of our most recent federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grants, which have brought more than $4.1 million into HCPS and our community since 2005, thanks to the leadership of JMU's College of Education. Not only have these funds been used to create an out-of-school time program model that works, but they have supported countless other organizations and programs in our community like Precious Gems Academy, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Second Home as well as other out-of-school time initiatives in HCPS. The grants have always been designed with the intention that they are sustained on a local level because of their value to our young people, families and community.
After failing to garner the support of the Superintendent, I presented (watch here around minute 8) to the School Board on Tuesday, February 18th about Beyond the Bell's story of impact, and asked them to fully fund both middle school programs next year. The presentation was just the beginning though, as more than a dozen students, parents, teachers and community leaders also spoke during public comment to the importance of Beyond the Bell and why our programs need to be sustained at a local level. Because of the "power of the people," the Daily News Record ran a front-page story about Beyond the Bell and our efforts to secure local funding on Saturday, February 22nd. Read it here.
Based on the comments made in the DNR article, which seemingly boast about how little HCPS can spend on after-school programs, and talk about how we need to have cost-effective ways to meet the growing demands of our school division (our programs operate at $7/student/hour and are on-par with comparable programs across the country- see Wallace Foundation report), we need to continue to make our presence known, voice heard, and show that quality out-of-school time programs like Beyond the Bell are important to our community! Currently, HCPS reports that it spends around $300,000 per year (K-12) on all after-school activities, which is a marginal .4% of their $62 million budget, with no indication that those dollars are invested in quality, in-depth, rigorous programs like Beyond the Bell that lead to long-lasting impact for our students and families.
This Tuesday, March 4th, we need YOU to join US at the Harrisonburg City School Board meeting so that we can make a powerful statement that Beyond the Bell and quality out-of-school time programs are a priority for our young people, working families and entire community, and are an investment worth making! The meeting is at 7 p.m. at 409 South Main Street in the City Council Chambers.
We have invited our Beyond the Bell students and families to attend, and are hoping for a strong showing from residents, community leaders and others, who believe that quality out-of-school time programs are a cost-effective way to help our young people do better in school, discover new interests, gain exposure to college/career possibilities, keep them safe between the hours of 3-6 p.m. and address a real need for our low-income families.
Your presence is most appreciated but you will also have the opportunity to speak during public comment if you wish. It can be as simple as "My name is _______. I live at _______ and I am here to speak about Beyond the Bell. I would like to see the School Board fund Beyond the Bell because ____________."
I will leave you with a quote from Paloma Saucedo, a working mother of a 6th grade student at Skyline Middle, who shared at the last School Board meeting that "I hope you [School Board] don't see this as an expense, but an investment in our youth and community."
Please be in touch if you have any questions. See you on Tuesday night!
Brent Holsinger, M.Ed.
Director, Beyond the Bell
If you continue to water a plant, providing it the right amount of sunlight, soil, and oxygen, don’t be surprised to watch it grow and blossom. This analogy can be applied to Beyond the Bell’s Pride Time program. In my working with Beyond the Bell, I have witnessed future leaders of our community (now ages 10-12) given the tools to succeed, and have watched them grow and blossom. And as you can expect, this came as no surprise.
At Beyond the Bell, students are equipped with the most powerful tool: knowledge. With guidance, students come to the realization that our brains are forever capable of “getting smarter.” Then they are given the opportunity to implement what they have learned in relevant, hands-on enrichment projects in a wide-range of topics.
I had the pleasure of leading a Beyond enrichment project called Art Moda this past fall. In this course, I witnessed flowers blooming in the form of students showing their incredible potential to “flex” their brains. When presented with what would seemingly be the daunting challenge of designing aesthetically pleasing and functional apparel from DUCT TAPE, they welcomed this challenge with open arms. They knew that it would not be easy. But they also knew that if it was something they felt they couldn't do right away that only meant it was something they just couldn't do…YET!
I was especially impressed with the footwear that students designed and assembled. In the assembling of their duct tape apparel, I witnessed students have to restart over and over again, learning each time from their previous try and the feedback of their peers. One student in particular, Xavier, must have restarted his shoe assembly at least 15 times, and while he had moments of frustration (wouldn’t we all!), he did not give up.
When it was all said and done, Xavier had learned from his many “failures “and had a product he was proud to share with a packed auditorium of his peers and community members at the culminating Learning Showcase. Xavier is now exhibiting a strong sense of confidence because he knows what he is capable of when he doesn’t let his mistakes get in his way. Xavier, along with many of his peers, are now willing to try new things with a “yes I can” attitude knowing that they have the proper tools to blossom and grow with the support of the Beyond the Bell community.
Mr. L. Miguel Wells is in his second year as a Beyond the Bell Team Leader and is the author of this post. Mr. Wells is a long-time educator in the Harrisonburg community.
"But Ms. Turner, I don't know how to do this homework problem!" This had been a common statement in my classroom in the beginning of the school year. Unfortunately, some kids used the phrase more often than others. One student in particular whom I noticed repeatedly saying this was Michelle. Michelle often said she couldn't do something before she even started looking at a homework problem. I knew she could do her entire homework paper because her grades said that she could. I knew she had the resources to complete the homework because her teachers and Beyond the Bell provided the resources. Michelle's problem was that when things seemed difficult at first, she often opted not to try.
Michelle and I were determined to change her mind-set. Over the next couple of months, I worked with Michelle during the first 10 minutes of every homework session. She became very attentive during our “Get Smart” lesson plan when we would discuss a "growth mindset" [the idea that one's intelligence is malleable and can grow]. Over the next couple of months, Michelle started to improve by using just one word. I noticed that whenever Michelle faced a challenge, she corrected herself and started to say "I can't do this problem...YET."
The word is simple, but it offers hope and it offers the will to try. I realized that Beyond the Bell has had a huge impact on how many of my students approached challenges. The “Get Smart” lesson plans have been an incredible way to show students, as well as myself, that once you think you can do something, you also start to believe you can do it!
Ms. Alexandria Turner is a Beyond the Bell/Pride Time Team Leader and the author of this post. She recently graduated from James Madison University in December with a degree in Health Sciences Pre-Dentistry and a double-minor in Biology and Chemistry. Ms. Turner expects to attend Dental School this fall!
Tell Us About Yourself “Twitter Style”… I am currently a special education teacher's assistant at Thomas Harrison Middle School, previously serving as a substitute teacher for all grades exclusively at Thomas Harrison. I hope to obtain a teaching license for secondary education in the next few years. In the meantime, I value the experience and professional development to be gained working as a Pride Time Team Leader. I also like chili dogs, windy walks, and sunflowers :).
What are your favorite snacks? a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g.
What inspires you to serve young people as an educator? I am inspired to serve young people as an educator, particularly in the city of Harrisonburg, because they are the future of the community where I would like to make my permanent home. Beyond academic success, I believe I can be an identifiable source of strength and inspiration to many different faces and make them feel as though they contribute to the success and cohesiveness of this community.
What five words best describe you? sentimental, compassionate, helpful, gracious, loquacious
Who is your hero? My hero is, not to sound cliche, my daughter Kalliope Leigh. Her existence has saved me from failing to reach my true potential.
Where do you want to be five years from now? Living in Harrisonburg as a middle school Spanish or Language Arts teacher.
Tell Us About Yourself “Twitter Style”… I am a book nerd and pretty goofy at heart. I got into the Education major at JMU because I would like to get young adults enthusiastic about literature and written language, whether they are book nerds or not. I love to run and ride my bike also!
You served as a volunteer in the fall for Beyond the Bell. What made you want to make the jump to serve as a Team Leader this semester? In the fall, I served as a volunteer for Beyond the Bell. I was a little nervous coming into the program because I have never worked with kids outside of babysitting and a camp setting. However, after a few days as a volunteer for Beyond the Bell I was hooked. After learning all my students names, I was able to have conversations and joke with them. It is encouraging to see each student's curiosity and unique interests highlighted in different parts of the Beyond the Bell day. I was so excited when I saw an opening for Team Leader because I wanted to learn more about the inner workings of this wonderful program! I am so happy to be working with the Beyond the Bell team.
Do you believe that you are born smart or get smart? I think we all have an inherent intelligence, you cannot deny that learning comes more naturally to some than others. However, intelligence is something that is continually fostered, even for those who are naturally gifted. An expert is not an expert because they were born with all their knowledge, but because they are passionate and study. Students are given the opportunity everyday in school to grow a large base of knowledge and realize their passions.
Fill in the blank for your vision for the Beyond the Bell program community. I envision…motivated, more insightful students. I envision a group of students who want to learn and further impact the community around them.
What is one of your favorite quotes? "But often, in the din of strife, There rises an unspeakable desire After the knowledge of our buried life" - Matthew Arnold "The Buried Life"
Where do you want to be five years from now? Teaching AP high school English and traveling.
This article was written for Harrisonburg City Public Schools' bi-monthly newsletter, The Insider (Nov/Dec 2013 edition). _________________________________________________________________
It is not everyday that you see a large group of middle school students walking through a college campus, but you would have seen exactly that on a recent Saturday in November, as Beyond the Bell’s 8th Grade Academy visited Bridgewater College.
College visits are a key component to this high school and college readiness out-of-school time program and serve as a “hook” for the 35 8th grade students who are participating from Skyline and Thomas Harrison Middle Schools this year. The college visits are more than your run-of-the-mill campus tour and are designed to provide students with a taste of the entire college experience.
In the most recent trip to Bridgewater College, 8th Grade Academy members met with college students, participated in a teambuilding activity, ate lunch at the dining hall, and cheered on the Eagles at the football game! One 8th Grade Academy student shares what they learned from their first college experience, “College is a great way to start your career if you want to be more accomplished in life and I am going to take harder classes so when I get to high school I can get an advanced degree.”
Stephanie Wilson, director of Multicultural Services and Service-Learning at Bridgewater College, explains why she continues to partner with Beyond the Bell’s 8th Grade Academy (now in it’s third year), “Our goal at Bridgewater College is to open doors of possibilities and engender a love of learning and devotion to something greater than self. It excites me to be a part of a partnership that brings the possibilities of obtaining a college education to so many. What is most amazing is to see the connection between the Bridgewater College and 8th Grade Academy students.”
In addition to college visits, 8th Grade Academy utilizes a blend of character building, writing instruction and consistent involvement of positive adult mentors to help its young people understand what they need to do now in order to successfully transition to high school and achieve their goals in the future.
8th Grade Academy meets two days per week after school in addition to numerous Saturdays throughout the year. And the number of young men who will have completed the program will nearly double from 35 to 70 once this year’s cohort finishes in May.