Brooklyn Emerging Leaders Academy (BELA)
A Brooklyn, New York charter school has set the foundation for nurturing, growing, and empowering tomorrow’s female leaders. And in so doing, they have created a haven for girls to thrive.

Rigorous college preparatory academics, lengthy commutes to school, and family responsibilities – which often take focus away from school – don’t always add up to success and the pursuit of a college degree. But this is exactly what the founders of Brooklyn Emerging Leaders Academy (BELA) set out to change. Educator Nicia Fullwood and former Children’s Aid Society (CAS) social worker Shannon Riley met years ago when they worked in tandem advising and counseling girls through CAS’ Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program. In part because of this shared experience, Fullwood and Riley saw a need in their community – a need for a place that could uplift, encourage, empower, and challenge exceptional young women to be their best selves and serve others.

They knew starting a charter school was the answer.

Charters make up the fastest growing form of schooling today. In 2016-17, there were more than 6,900 charter schools nationally enrolling an estimated 3.1 million students. BELA enrolls just 85 students but will welcome an incoming freshman class this fall and double their enrollment.

Getting a brand-new school like BELA up and running means the tangible to-do lists are a mile long and include financial planning, academic planning, spatial/logistical planning, recruiting students, hiring staff – just to name a few. But leaders of new charters must also possess a certain level of emotional strength too; passion and determination are necessary for a school to succeed. “There just were not enough hours in the day for everything we needed to do. We prioritized and in the end it all came together. We could not be happier, seeing the girls acclimating and contributing to our culture each day keeps us focused on our goals and our mission,” shared Riley.

Increased enrollment is one of those goals. At a charter school, it has to be since enrollment is the key to sustaining the health and prosperity of the school. Recognizing that an online enrollment solution would be key to long-term success and family adoption, Fullwood and Riley turned to SchoolMint.

Through SchoolMint, BELA’s first class completed all the necessary registration paperwork in two different ways. First, families that Fullwood and Riley recruited through an incredible grassroots campaign could register with the enrollment management solution SchoolMint designed for BELA. But, to maximize the school’s applicant reach, Fullwood and Riley also worked with SchoolMint to enable BELA registration inside the NYC Online Charter School App powered by SchoolMint.

SchoolMint helped BELA increase its visibility in the registration space, but it also provided some relief from budgetary constraints. The new school was limited on administrative staff, so automation was essential. “We didn’t have the time to sort through registration packets and make sure everything was complete. We relied on SchoolMint’s verification process for the majority of our families which freed time to focus on families who needed a bit more support,” recounted Riley.

With the right mix of hard work and effective tools, Fullwood and Riley welcomed 85 highly motivated young women to be excellent stewards of BELA’s vision and mission. And last September, BELA opened its doors to its first freshman class.

They come from as far away as Staten Island to its location in Bedford–Stuyvesant, a neighborhood of 153,000 inhabitants in the north central portion of the Brooklyn. Students gather together for Sisterhood Circle at the start of each day. Fullwood can be heard sharing inspirational stories, challenging the girls to be kinder to each other, and praising the girls for their dedication to their studies – routinely referencing the mission and core values of the school: Sisterhood, Scholarship, Strength, and Service. She is aware that this class, the school’s first, is charged with carrying the mission and core values forward for future classes. And her students are aware of the task at hand and are up for the challenge of creating a school culture based on their founding values. In fact, the amazing stewards of BELA were recently highlighted for this in the press.

Fullwood and Riley are also keeping their gaze ever ahead. “We are anticipating a full freshmen class next year and will continue to add one class per year, graduating our founding BELA class in 2021,” confirms Riley. As interest in BELA spreads, and there are more students applying than there are seats available, Riley will turn to SchoolMint to assist with a transparent, fair, and equitable lottery process. The relationship between BELA and SchoolMint will continue to grow as family engagement needs rise with expanded enrollment and comprehensive enrollment data and reporting required for effective governance. And we can’t wait to see it all unfold.

About Brooklyn Emerging Leaders Academy

Brooklyn Emerging Leaders Academy (BELA) Public Charter School is an all girls high school located in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood with a mission to empower each young woman to be the best version of herself. Through a rigorous college preparatory curriculum, service learning initiatives, and a commitment to cultivating a spirit of ownership within each young woman, BELA students will attend and graduate from college.

About SchoolMint

SchoolMint is the leader in strategic enrollment management software for Pre-K-12 schools nationwide. Over 7,500 schools use our products to improve student enrollment, registration, application, lottery, and school choice for families. SchoolMint’s mission is to improve the whole student journey and better connect schools with families. Founded in 2013, SchoolMint, along with Hero K12, is a subsidiary of EdTech Holdings (backed by BV Investment Partners). @School_Mint