Monday, December 30, 2013

The BVP 2013 Top Ten Reflections

This is the time of year for reflection and renewal.  It’s also the time for the requisite Top 10 lists of the best, worst, happiest, or most surprising things of the year.  

We at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy have had a pretty amazing year, so here we go!  (Note to reader: there is a LOT of enthusiasm for what follows, expect bold, italics, lots of links, and excessive punctuation!!!)

10. Social Media- We are getting better each day in getting our message out there.  With 200+ followers on LinkedIn, 800+ followers on twitter, and an incredible 1700+ likes on Facebook, we are getting our message out in new and innovative ways each day.  :) Here’s a shameless plug for our New Year’s Message (on youtube, of course)!

9. National School Choice Week - Our celebration of National School Choice Week helped to raise public awareness of our program.  Ultimately, over 1,700 students applied for about 240 available seats.  The overwhelming demand is bittersweet, at once a testament to our success and a sobering reminder that we are not growing nearly fast enough to meet demand -- see this Projo editorial on the topic.

8. Pawtucket - This fall BVP moved its Network Support Headquarters from excess classrooms at ES2 to the Lorraine Mills in Pawtucket.  The space is pretty nice (though we are finding it’s a little chilly in winter); it is great to have a home base in the City that is home to nearly half of the applicants to BVP.

7. Commended - In its first year of rating eligibility, BVP ES1 was awarded Commended status for outstanding student achievement.  Overall, BVP was awarded seven (7) Top 10 certificates from RI-CAN for academic excellence and gap-closing results.  The hard work of our scholars was celebrated by Commissioner Gist and math teacher-turned-math coordinator-turned skydiver Drew Madden.

6. BVP High School Launch - The countdown is on until the doors for our HS will open.  We intend to break the BVP mold as we continue to innovate.  This year we have secured investments from the Rhode Island Foundation, Next Generation Learning Challenge, and the Champlin Foundations to support a design that will be at once deeply rigorous and highly personalized.  Read more from our HS designer, Jonathan Santos Silva on twitter.

5. Teacher Talent - The amazing team at BVP was epitomized by our very own Milken Winner, Marielle Emet.  In a surprise ceremony, she declared that “many teachers are as -- if not more -- deserving of this award.”  While there’s strong consensus from the rest of us that Marielle is the most deserving. That she has about 100 really close runners-up is also a true statement.

4. Groundbreaking - Facilities are a major challenge for all schools, especially charters.  This report shows how Rhode Island charter school facilities are grossly underfunded.  Indeed, about 10% of our operating dollars, money that would otherwise be in classrooms, goes to rents, leases, and debt service.  That said, with the help of the national CDFI Self-Help, we built a 5,000 square foot addition on ES1 to allow the school to fully enroll K-4.  Even more excitedly -- with our partnership with Civic Builders and support from the Gates Foundation and New Markets Tax Credits -- we recently broke ground on a 40,000 square foot permanent home to ES2!

3. Charter School Growth Fund - Many consider an invitation into the CSGF portfolio as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for charter schools.  In June, after nine months of due diligence, we were invited to join!  In addition to the recognition, investment ($2.2MM), CSGF brings real capacity to the BVP network.  From board and senior staff counsel to professional development convenings, this is a pretty amazing opportunity for BVP.

2. Renewal - It is only fitting that in a note about reflection and renewal that our very own five-year charter renewal is near the top of the list.  In addition to the renewal of the charter, the board voted to approve our expansion request.  We are now authorized to grow to a total of seven schools.  As careful followers know, that later led to some confusion, that was later cleared up.  Thank you BVP families!

1. Family - Speaking of families, at the end of the day that is what this work is all about.  Building strong families, communities, and society.  Countless scholar siblings entered the world this year -- every family event seems filled with new carriages of future scholars.  Our “team family” is also bursting.  With nine staff in 2009, we now are over 140 team members.  And we are growing! Our Milken Winner brought a new “backseat NPR listener” and future scholar to the world.  Other staff with future scholars include our Director of Operations, Mike DeMatteo, Athletic Director extraordinaire Ed Laskowski, interventionist Kara Floyd, HS designer Jonathan Santos Silva, science teacher Nicole Rollins, math teacher Matt Yates, and lunch lady Lisa!  2014 is looking just as strong, so if you know of someone looking to cut their teeth as a maternity sub, let me know…

What a great year!  And you have my best to an amazing 2014!

Jeremy Chiappetta
Executive Director

Thursday, December 19, 2013

VIDEO: You Can Never Have Enough Holiday Cheer...

We know you received your issue of the PRIDE Press yesterday, but we can't help spreading just a little more holiday cheer. 

Here is a video of our Kindergarten scholars performing for the very first time at the Winter Wonderland concert held at the Cumberland Public Library on December 15. 

The Allegro Strings (3rd grade) and Presto Strings (4th grade) performed last night at Elementary School 1, and tonight, first grade scholars are performing a musical! Kindergarten and second grade concerts (which were postponed due to weather) will be rescheduled for after the winter break. 

We look forward to catching up with our BVP Musings readers then. 

Wishing you all Happy Holidays and Warm Wishes for the New Year!

Monday, December 16, 2013

High School Updates: Thoughts from BVP High School Designer Jonathan Santos Silva

Last week, I had the great pleasure of meeting with BVP families from Central Falls, Cumberland, Lincoln, and Pawtucket on our High School Information tour! We met around kitchen counters, on sofas, and in a public library to discuss topics as varied as Advanced Placement courses, interscholastic athletics, and college counseling. There is a lot to be excited about and many questions yet to be answered, but the true value of these sessions for me has been to experience firsthand the energy and excitement of our families.

According to a report entitled A New Wave of Evidence, "When schools, families, and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more." Scholars with engaged families are also more likely to earn better grades, enroll in higher-level programs, and go on to post-secondary education. As one parent mentioned this Saturday, family engagement often starts very high at the elementary level only to dwindle as scholars get older. I embarked on this series of sessions to inform our families, and I am leaving with a commitment to engage them from now through high school graduation. 

Many of my updates end with the phrase "All in for Day 1," alluding to opening day of the high school. After completing our first week of  family engagement activities, maybe the better call to action is "All in for Day 1,460!"

Saturday, December 7, 2013

PHOTOS: Fourth Grade Scholars Make Care Packages, Write Over 250 Letters to Soldiers in Afghanistan for the Holidays

During a special town hall on Friday, Elementary School 1 (ES1) families and scholars put together 80 care packages that will be mailed to soldiers at Camp Morehead in Afghanistan over the weekend. 

Scholars in all grades wrote over 250 letters thanking soldiers for their service and wishing them a Happy Holiday.  They also talked to  Master Sergeant Jackie Hazley, the aunt of two BVP scholars at ES1, via Live Stream on an iPad. They had fun asking her questions about being a soldier and living in Afghanistan,  where it was 1:00 a.m. during the town hall. 

ES1 also sponsored a staff and scholar school-wide dress down day that raised close to $400 that went towards making the care packages.  

Talk about BVP PRIDE!

Enjoy some photos from the event below and on our Facebook page.

Families worked together to write letters for the troops at Camp Morehead.

Master Sergeant Jackie Hazley's daughter holds her iPad up to scholars so that they can ask her mom questions.

BVP Parent Lori Barden, who first thought of the idea to make the care packages, helps families stuff their bags with items like ChapStick and candy canes. A group of parent volunteers helped support the event.

The completed care packages will be mailed over the weekend.

Scholars enjoyed writing letters to soldiers. In this letter, a scholar writes, "Thank you for protecting our freedom."

Mr. Matthew Yates, who helped organize the event, guides scholars as they write their letters.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

High School Updates: Thoughts from BVP High School Designer Jonathan Santos Silva

During this time of year, it seems that people from all walks of life draw closer to the people they love. I don't know if it has to do with the cold weather or the variety of celebrations that mark our calendars, but there is something about November and December that says, "Family." I am looking forward to catching up with relatives and friends I haven't seen in months, but this year I am also looking forward to meeting new friends, members of the BVP Family,  at the upcoming "High School Family Information Sessions!"  

The High School Family Information Sessions are designed for the parents of current BVP scholars who are interested in learning more about the high school vision. Each one is c0-hosted by BVP families and will give us an opportunity to hear ideas, answer questions, and share updates on our progress. Please check the list below for the Info Session that is most convenient for you and RSVP. I hope to see many of you at one of them! All in for Day One!

Monday, December 9, 2013
Co-Hosts: Georgia and Chris Shaban, Mary Joyce and Peter Nigro, and Kathy and Kevin Goffe
Address: 4 Grundy's Way, Cumberland RI
Time: 6:00-7:00 PM
Please RSVP here

Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Host: Deanna Velletri
Address: 387 Front Street, Lincoln RI
Time: 5:30-6:30 PM
Please RSVP here

Thursday, December 12, 2013
Host: Kathy Santos
Address: 31 Old River Rd, Lincoln RI
Time: 6:30-7:30 PM
Please RSVP here

Friday, December 13, 2013
Host: Christina Losea and Brian Murphy
Address: 269 Little Pond Country Rd, Cumberland RI
Time: 5:30-6:30 PM
Please RSVP here

Saturday, December 14, 2013
Host: Sarah Trek
Address: 120 Anderson Ave Pawtucket Ave
Time: 10:00-11 AM
Please RSVP here

Saturday, December 14, 2013
Host: Mina Interiano
Address: Adams Memorial Library, 205 Central St, Central Falls, RI
Time: 12:30-1:30 PM
Please RSVP here
Spanish Translation will be available.
Traducción en español estará disponible.

UPDATED 12/20/13

Thursday, January 9, 2013
Host: Rachel McGuire
Address: 74 Greenfield St, Pawtucket, RI
Time: 7:30 PM
Please RSVP here

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What BVP is Thankful For

We asked our families and scholars to share what they are thankful for this holiday season. 

Here is what a few of them said:
  • "We are very thankful for our close friends & family!! We are also thankful for family time together with loved ones!" -Rachel Arone, Elementary School 2 Parent
    • What her scholar said: "Isabella is thankful for her mommy & cuddling!" 
  • "I am thankful for the health of my three sons - their boundless energy drives me crazy, but is also a reminder that they are healthy and strong. I'm thankful that BVP continues to work hard to move the needle for kids and I'm extra thankful that my children get to go there and that I get to work there." -Erika Sanzi, Elementary School 1 Parent and BVP Staff Member
    • What her scholar, Matthew, said: "I am thankful for family because if I didn't have family, I wouldn't have anything and I wouldn't know what to do because I'm just a kid. Without family, I'd be sad and hungry."
  • "I am thankful that Mr. Chiappetta started this wonderful academy . I am also thankful that my boys are receiving the best education. We truly won the lottery!" -Nancy Estrada, Elementary School 1 Parent
    • What her scholars said: "Nikolas is thankful for wonderful teachers. Jordan is thankful that he can read on his own now."
  • "Doy gracias por mantener mi familia hermosa llena de bendiciones, salud, prosperidad y un amor tan fuerte que crece y crece todos los días..... gracias!" -Gretty Sarria, Elementary School 1 Parent
    • What her scholar, Daniela, said: "I am thankful for my family because they love me."
  • "I'm thankful for my family that always supports me." -Ana Leon, Elementary School 1 Parent
    • What her scholar, Michelle, said: "I'm thankful for my family because they support me when something is hard, and I'm also thankful for my school and my teachers because they help me learn knowledge to get to college."
    • What her scholar, Mia, said: "I'm thankful for my family because they support me, and I'm also thankful for my school, my teachers and my friends."
  • "This year we are thankful that we have so many family members joining us for thanksgiving dinner (20 people!!)" -Carla Bouthillette, Elementary School 2 Parent
    • What her scholar said: "Breanne said she is thankful that her family cares about her and her brother so much."
  • "I am thankful for my family and friends. I am thankful for sharing this holiday season with family. I am thankful for health and happiness every day of the year." -Kelly Foley, Elementary School 2 Parent
    • What her scholar said: "My daughter, Analyse, is thankful for her family, especially her mom, dad and brothers, who she loves very much."
    We at Blackstone Valley Prep are thankful for the support of our amazing community, families, scholars, and staff this holiday season and always! 

    Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

3 to 7... by 2017

Hannah Colestock, External Affairs Associate

My days at BVP are not spent in the classroom, although I treasure the moments I have the opportunity to see firsthand how incredible our teachers and scholars truly are.  It is those moments that reinforce the importance of the work I do on a daily basis-- as an External Affairs Associate on the Network team-- to ensure the quality of the talent we recruit and select to join our team.  BVP recognizes that a highly effective teacher is the single most important factor in a child’s academic success. Furthermore, we believe that great teaching is intellectually challenging, and a student’s success is dependent on an educator’s ability to build genuine and lasting interpersonal relationships with their scholars. Recruiting even more highly effective team members in all facets of the organization is one of the most important and invigorating challenges we have to growing our network from three to seven schools by 2017

For the 2014-15 school year alone we will hire an estimated 38 new team members across the BVP network.  On bad days the task can feel daunting. On good days the work is invigorating and, no matter the day, there’s no place I would rather be working.  In the next 7 months I will learn the stories of over 1,000 applicants who are interested in working at BVP.  For those that advance in our process, our team will spend over 10,000 minutes on the phone interviewing candidates.  Prospective applicants will also spend time on-site attending recruitment events throughout the winter and spring. In fact, this process will kick-off today as we host our very first event for prospective Founding High School Team Members.  Later in the recruitment season, as candidates advance in our selection process, we will open our classroom doors for candidates to teach sample lessons in front of their future scholars.

Just last week we were reminded just how amazing our teachers are when our Middle School was visited by some very special guests.  Governor Chafee, Commissioner Gist, and Board Chair Mancuso are just  a few of the Rhode Island leaders that filled our Middle School for what we quickly learned was a surprise announcement to award Founding Middle School Math Teacher and Dean of Academics, Marielle Emet, with the incredibly prestigious Milken Educator Award.  We are so proud of the work that our team does everyday.

If you are just as energized as we are to join a movement of educators that are working every day to show what IS possible, please go to our career portal or reach out to me directly at to learn more about the 2014-15 opportunities at BVP and mark your calendar for our next recruitment event on December 18!  

Monday, November 4, 2013

High School Updates: Thoughts from BVP High School Designer Jonathan Santos Silva

A rigorous high school experience is the bridge between a great middle school and true college and career success. That is why we are working with national and international educators, successful school founders, and your child(ren)’s teachers to design a truly world-class Blackstone Valley Prep High School. As we engage in this work, I am sure that you have many questions about the high school and how it will look, sound, and feel. 

Included below are thoughts on several school topics about which you may be wondering. It is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it will answer some of your big questions. I also hope to gather your thoughts to make sure that we understand your needs. Please take the time to fill out this short survey by November 8th, so we can design a truly world-class high school. All in for Day 1!

Please click here for the survey in English.
Please click here for the survey in Spanish.

Academics: The curriculum at BVP High School is being aligned to the Common Core standards and designed to prepare students for success in college and careers. Teachers will employ a variety of instructional strategies including Socratic seminars, extended research projects, and design thinking to develop students’ abilities to think critically, work collaboratively, and solve real-world problems. We will offer Advanced Placement and pre-AP courses.

Activities/Athletics: BVP High School will encourage scholars to pursue academic, athletic, artistic, and personal growth so that they will experience success in colleges and universities. We will field teams with the RI Interscholastic League and, when that is not possible due to our scale, we are exploring the logistics of partnering with home-districts. We are also exploring exciting and engaging activities such as chess, debate, mock trial, and journalism. 

Behavior System/Culture: Our culture will be founded upon the PRIDE values, maintaining high academic and behavioral expectations while giving students opportunities to take risks and learn from mistakes in a supportive environment. The disciplinary program at BVP High School will incorporate a faculty-advised, student-led disciplinary board and evolve from the Middle School’s merit/demerit system to prepare students for the real world.

Dress: The high school will continue the BVP tradition of scholar uniforms and gradually release students into a professional dress code as juniors or seniors. In creating the dress code, we will be mindful of age-appropriateness and affordability. 

Grading: The grading system will blend the instructional benefits of a standards-based approach with a traditional format (letter grades and GPA) that is easily understood and commonly utilized by colleges and universities for admissions decisions.

Length of Day: We are creating a schedule that will allow for academic time to be followed by clubs and athletics, all within the school day. Our initial plan is for the academic day to last from 8am-2:45pm. From 2:45-4:45pm, every scholar is expected to participate in one of the following activities: interscholastic athletics, school-sponsored activities, faculty office hours (tutoring), online coursework, or early release for a school-approved outside activity (internship, job, etc.). 

Technology: BVP High School will leverage instructional technology to personalize aspects of the curriculum and supplement classroom learning experiences. We will adopt a 1:1 device model, meaning every scholar will have a laptop (subject to fundraising).

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Scholar Ambassador Reflects on Experience as Founding Scholar, Looks Forward to Year Ahead

On October 22, a group of over 20 scholars met after school to kick off the year as BVP Scholar Ambassadors. Below, one of the club’s members reflects on her experience as a founding scholar and club member and previews what’s ahead for the school year. 

Marissa Kanakry, College Class of 2022

As an incoming fifth grader, I was really scared and nervous. I remember dreading attending the open houses, and I was really, really sad to leave my friends. Being a part of the founding class was really awesome now that I think about it. I was really scared at first because I knew "all eyes would be on us." It meant that there would be a lot of attention focusing on things we did wrong, but there'd also be lots of attention focusing on things we did right.  The first day of "Prep Academy" was in August, and we were learning more about the expectations for us as fifth graders at BVP. I came home after my first day of school to a phone call from my grandparents and balloons from my mom. I really didn't understand why everyone was so happy for me, but later it clicked: everyone was proud because I'd done something really amazing. I had tried something new. Life is all about taking chances, and those chances do something great for you in the end, even if you don't realize it in the beginning.

Knowing that many new scholars will be as nervous as I was, I want to help make their first year as easy and stress-free as possible. Being an ambassador lets me help those scholars, and it makes me less stressed to see that they are having/going to have a good time in school. Scholar ambassadors attend events like celebrations for newly accepted scholars and open houses. I really enjoy attending things like this because I get to meet the scholars and families that are joining our BVP family. When I was a fifth grader here at BVP, there were no other grades or role models to look up to. I love being the role model to those 5th graders, and that's why I joined Scholar Ambassadors.

In Scholar Ambassador Club we also give tours to scholars and adults. Many times, meeting with a scholar like me is the very first impression many families and scholars have of our school. One afternoon last year, I was giving a tour to three mothers and their scholars. I wasn't nervous one bit! I was SO excited actually. When I first introduced myself to them I said, "I'm like a golden retriever. I love meeting new people," which is true! After observing a class, I explained in the hallway that one of the special experiences here at BVP is getting a chance to have a relationship with the teachers. Teachers care about scholars academically and in life outside of school. You can even call teachers up until 9 o'clock at night with any problems that have to do with school or life at home. Nobody said anything, so I think they were stunned.  This is the education parents want for their kids. I think in that moment, it finally clicked for people about what was missing in their child's education.

I'm personally looking forward to this year as a Scholar Ambassador because I want to show people what BVP has to offer and how we are setting 100% of scholars up for a great future. I'm looking forward to sharing our culture and community with those who are just getting to know us and can’t wait until they, too, become part of our family. 

To learn more about how you can take a tour of BVP with our scholar ambassadors, keep checking our website at You may also direct questions to Ms. Bunnell at or Ms. Sitkus at

Monday, October 21, 2013

Extending Learning Beyond the Classroom: Thoughts from BVP High School Designer Jonathan Santos Silva

When I was younger, the older folks would tell me things like, “Go to school so you can get yourself a good education.” School children today probably hear comments like that from time to time, and I have repeated similar things to the young people in my life. The intentions behind these comments are good, but what are the unintended consequences of using terms like “education” and “school/schooling” interchangeably? There are many, but the one that intrigues me most is the one where students begin to believe that the only valuable learning occurs within the walls of a school.

Across Rhode Island and the country, students, teachers, and community mentors are dispelling this erroneous notion with extended learning opportunities (ELOs). ELOs provide an opportunity for students to learn outside of traditional school constraints (time and place) to expand upon classroom experiences, pursue personal academic interests, and explore potential careers. Community mentors support students’ real-world learning while teacher mentors ensure ELOs are rigorous and standards-aligned. In communities like Central Falls, Providence and Woonsocket, students are earning credit for the following extended learning experiences:

  • developing strong critical thinking, public speaking, and debate skills with the Rhode Island Urban Debate League;
  • learning coding while creating applications for Android tablets and smart phones;
  • building research and laboratory science skills while assisting in graduate-level research at Brown University; and many others.

Creating, supervising, and evaluating ELOs is difficult work for schools, but the benefits for students are undeniable. Students who complete ELOs develop greater educational focus along with skills in self-advocacy, communication, and time management. That sounds a lot like the type of student we want graduating from Blackstone Valley Prep High School, ready for the rigors of college and the world beyond!

All in for Day 1!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What being able to play the violin means to me, a BVP Fourth Grader!

Last night, BVP Elementary School 1 (ES1) scholars received the violins they will be playing all year.  As many of you know, every third grade scholar at BVP has a violin, and all fourth graders have the opportunity to play the violin, cello, or viola as part of their music class.  

Ms. Sousa, music teacher at ES1, asked a group of fourth graders what playing the violin meant to them. Here is what they said:

"What violin means to me is being able to have the confidence in myself to be anything I want to be. It can lead you to accomplishing your dreams and knowing that you can get there no matter what." -Gianna

"What violin means to me is giving me the inspiration to push myself to be a better musician and scholar because I now know I can do anything I put my mind to." -Valeria

"What violin means to me is giving me the opportunity to do something that a lot of kids around here do not get to do and it makes my life interesting and unique." -Sofia

"What violin means to me is giving me the experience to be part of something, and that's an awesome feeling to have." -Maddox

"Violin changed my life because now my mom is more proud of me than she has ever been before. She really sees how important the violin is to me and how great I can be at it after all the hard work I have put into learning." -Nailea

"What violin means to me is giving me a journey into melodies and musical possibilities I never thought I would be able to hear or even play. It makes me a more creative person and I can share that with other people." -Daniela

"Playing the violin means experiencing my passion everyday when I pick up my violin. Being able to do that makes my life more exciting and proud of what I do." -Sreyas

"Playing the violin means always getting to do something fun and feeling good about what I am doing. It makes me feel accomplished and passionate about playing." -Bruce