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All-Girls Charter School with STEAM and Latin Classes Proposed for Bed-Stuy

By Camille Bautista | November 11, 2015 8:45am
 The Brooklyn Emerging Leaders Academy Charter High School founders Shannon Riley (left) and Nicia Fullwood (right) with a former student and her mother. The pair are hoping to open the all-girls school in Bed-Stuy's District 16 by fall 2017.
The Brooklyn Emerging Leaders Academy Charter High School founders Shannon Riley (left) and Nicia Fullwood (right) with a former student and her mother. The pair are hoping to open the all-girls school in Bed-Stuy's District 16 by fall 2017.
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Belle LeGrand

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — The former assistant principal of two downtown Brooklyn schools is teaming up with a longtime colleague and social worker in hopes of empowering young teens through a new all-girls charter school.

Educator Nicia Fullwood and Children’s Aid Society social worker Shannon Riley are applying to open the Brooklyn Emerging Leaders Academy Charter High School, or BELA, in Bed-Stuy in fall 2017.

The pair’s years of advising and counseling girls through CAS’ Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program led them on a journey to fulfill a need in the neighborhood in which they hope to inspire and lead young women to make an impact in their communities, they said.

The founders aim to create “agents of change” through the school’s four tenets: scholarship, sisterhood, strength and service.

Students would participate in a college prep curriculum that includes STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art design and mathematics) and Latin courses, as well as participate in hands-on community service work.

“There’s a lack of women and certainly women of color in the fields of math, science and engineering, and we want to give girls perspective that it is possible,” Fullwood, 34, said.

“With Latin, we’re setting them up for success, not only prepping them for SATs, but with a model of challenging them. It’s going to be hard, and that’s OK. We want them to learn how to persist.”

Fullwood, who graduated with a degree in electrical engineering before going into education, said her undergraduate career was an intimidating time for her.

“I didn’t really feel there was this space for me to enter because there wasn’t really anyone who looked like me at the time,” she said.

Through BELA, she and Riley are looking to create a safe space for young women to develop their talents, they said.

The two previously worked at the all-girls Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women in downtown Brooklyn, assisting students with their emotional and social needs as they transitioned from middle school to high school.

The pair met one-on-one with students through counseling classes once a week and provided a “powerful place to support each other,” Riley, 33, said.

“Especially in high school years, it was a space for them to work through problems together and learn from each other.”

Fullwood and Riley aim to bring the same holistic view to BELA, where girls can feel “safe and loved” while undergoing a rigorous curriculum, they said.

“From our experience, the culture created at all-girls schools gives them the edge to be powerful young women,” Riley said.

“Every role is filled by a girl and they’re always looking up to someone who looks like her.”

BELA would also fill a gap felt by many Bed-Stuy parents, they added, who often take their students outside the neighborhood for better educational opportunities they feel are lacking in District 16.

Jaye Whitaker, a Fort Greene resident, said she moved from Bed-Stuy in 2001 due to the neighborhood’s absence of options for her children.

Her 18-year-old daughter, Taylor, received mentorship from Fullwood and Riley from the time she was in sixth grade at UAI, she said. Now a college freshman, her daughter still keeps in touch with the pair.

“It’s really because of them that my daughter is in there in college,” Whitaker said. “They have this amazing ability to connect with the girls, and are so loving, nurturing, and passionate about it.”  

“It’s about time there’s a school like this, especially in Bed-Stuy. The fact that they’re looking to bring something in that particular area geared towards the empowerment of women, they really make the ladies believe it.”

BELA will partner with local organizations, including CAS, which will provide the framework for the school’s family life and sexuality curriculum, along with financial literacy and medical advocacy courses.

Other collaborations include Girls Incorporated of New York City and FUSE. The duo is looking to house the school in a private space in the neighborhood, starting with a class of 100 young women.

The charter school aims to be “community-based,” Fullwood added, giving parents another option and working with other local schools to create an improved pipeline within the district.

“We’re interested in being around for hundreds of years and being a staple school in the community,” she said.

BELA founders are seeking community feedback on the school’s proposed model through an online survey and information sessions.

The next meeting will be held Nov. 19 at 6 p.m. at Brooklyn Public Library’s Bedford Branch, 496 Franklin Ave. For more information, email belacharter@gmail.com