Thursday, November 27, 2014


BVP Giving Thanks Blog Series- Part V

Two years ago, I published this Thanksgiving Musing.  Last year, we shared these words of thanks.  Looking for the right inspiration for my blog this year, I re-read these notes, and the heartfelt thoughts of musings by others for 2014.  

Personally, life is pretty extraordinary.  I have three amazing children and a wonderful wife who keeps our family together and still manages to advance her own career, all while supporting my efforts to lead BVP.  I will save the endless celebrations of my own family for my Thanksgiving dinner table, but should be said: I am most thankful for my family.

Professionally, I am thankful for the “wins” BVP continues to achieve for its scholars.  From grants to buildings, from academic accolades to amazing individual stories of perseverance, I know that we are doing right by our scholars.  Indeed, I am thankful to be part of such a remarkable, award-winning team of teachers, leaders, and support professionals.  Moreover, our families and scholars themselves have been tremendously supportive of our work in myriad ways, from volunteerism to giving, from public service to retweeting.

I am particularly grateful my two eldest are growing up at BVP.  We are part of a school community where I know and see that my kids are being pushed to be their very best.  More importantly, I know that Katie and Jack (and soon Mollie) will have a diverse learning and life experience.  This diversity, I truly believe, will propel them and their classmates to social success in ways that we have yet to understand or even imagine.

This year, I am also thankful for a life full of serendipity.  I grew up in a zip code that is decidedly middle class, where we didn’t lock our doors at night and all the kids played at the local playground until dark (without fear of our parents being arrested, or quite frankly any fears at all).  I was able to attend a very good Catholic school because of my parents’ desire that my sister and I obtain the best education they could afford.  I learned about the Pennsylvania Governor’s Schools through socially connected neighbors who told my family about the program, which set me on a path to attend the University of Pennsylvania.  As a first-year teacher in New York City, my first paycheck did not arrive until Thanksgiving, but I was able to make ends meet because of family support and access to credit.  All of this, coupled with lots of hard work, has set up me for great successes throughout my career, and for all of this I am thankful.

I could end my blog entry here, and that’s probably what I should do.  But, I would not be sharing my truest thoughts this Thanksgiving, and I owe it to anyone still reading to give a little more depth.

In light of the Black Friday shopping that starts for millions in just a few hours, on Thanksgiving day, I find myself, somewhat guiltily, thankful for my economic status.  I can buy presents without needing to get up at ungodly early hours and fight lines to buy items that I can only afford when put deeply on sale.  Indeed, I can just go to Amazon and, for the most part, buy the things that I want (within reason...I’m no Powerball winner).  Perhaps more importantly, I have employment that does not compel me to interrupt time during this great family holiday in order to head in for a retail job.  Many family members and friends actually resent this and other holidays because of this stress.  While I have the chance to take that post-turkey nap on a couch in front of a mediocre football game on TV, millions will be heading in at 4PM on Thanksgiving Day (or earlier) to go to work.

In light of the recent events and grand jury decision in Ferguson, today I find myself thankful that, because of my race, I don’t need to live in fear for my son Jackson as he grows up.  This is not to say that many white Americans don’t have very difficult lives; this is not to say that whites are not arrested improperly or subject to police brutality.  But, as a parent of a boy, I am thankful that his odds of accessing the American Dream are not deterred because of his race (read sobering stats here, here, or here).  Indeed, in daily conversations with friends and colleagues (many at BVP) I do not worry about my son in the same way that many of my non-white friends worry...and to say that they “worry” is an understatement.   

That decades after Dr. King’s assassination we are still “dreaming” is embarrassing.  That decades after the Brown v. Board of Education decision our nation’s schools are more segregated than ever is alarming.  

But, through all of this, it is our work at BVP that gives me hope for a better future.  We are poised at BVP, because of our intentional diversity, to help create future leaders who not only tolerate diverse backgrounds, but also acknowledge diversity, appreciate diversity, celebrate diversity, and eagerly seek out diversity.  

This year, in 2014, I am thankful that I am part of a team that is creating hope for a much better future.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Jeremy Chiappetta is the Executive Director of Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy, a founding member of the National Coalition of Diverse Charter Schools.  Follow him on Twitter @chiachess.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why I Remain Thankful in a Fractured Country

BVP Giving Thanks Blog Series- Part IV

By Katelyn Silva, Chief Communications Officer at Rhode Island Mayoral Academies
Cousins taking a silly "selfie" are a reminder of a better future.
We’re living in a country where our schools are becoming re-segregated, our communities divided, and, in too many instances, young black men are dying. It’s hard for many to feel thankful.

The number of black students in schools where 90 percent or more of the population are minorities increased from 2.3 million to more than 2.9 million from 1993-2011. Compared to 1970, today, the wealthy are far more likely to live in separate communities from the poor. Black males between the ages of 15 and 19 are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white peers. The frustration and anger is justifiably mounting.

I—as a white, middle-class woman—share those emotions.

Yet, as Thanksgiving approaches, I've tried to find silver linings in my tiny piece of the world that may point towards a better tomorrow. 

Here are a few things for which I am thankful:

I’m thankful that when my 3-year-old daughter differentiates between her cousins—both named Ava—by saying “my cousin with the brown face” or the “white face,” she says it with pure candor because it’s as important a differentiation as what color shoes they’re wearing that day. Her love for them is equal and unbridled. This will never change—even when the world “teaches her” not to talk about the color of someone’s skin (as if that beautiful difference is a hushed secret). Inter-racial love and family is a byproduct of our evolution as a society and it will bring us further still.

I’m thankful that I am not one of the 75% of white people who do not have a single person of color in their social media circles—indicative of the much larger problem of our segregated communities, schools, and life experiences. How do you forge interracial friendships in racial isolation? How can we learn to understand one another when we don’t have any relationships with each other? My life would be flatter and devoid of so much had I not been fortunate enough to have friendships across race and class.

I’m thankful that the richness of my relationships professionally and personally has taught me the truth of my white privilege, while never feeling questioned about my (and many other’s) genuine desire for that to change.  Being white does not mean you are bad, racist, or don’t care, it just means you inherently have privileges that others don’t. It’s important to be aware of those.

I’m thankful that in a world where injustice happens more often than it should, the job I go to everyday is about bringing children together, not keeping them apart—through K-12 educational options with diverse populations. Research shows that when students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds learn together side-by-side, prejudice and stereotyping among those students is reduced. Friendships across racial lines flourish and greater levels of cultural competence develop. Interracial friendships are one of the single most important indicators for reducing prejudice.

I’m thankful that in the intentionally racially and socio-economically diverse Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy, the students are learning, playing, and growing together—inside and outside of the school buildings as friends and peers. Non-prejudiced kids tend to grow into non-prejudiced adults. Studies show that white students who attend diverse schools are far more likely to attend diverse colleges, live in diverse neighborhoods, and work in diverse organizations. Significantly, students of all races who experience high levels of interracial contact are “more likely to feel that positive steps should be taken to mitigate exclusion based on race.”  

I’m thankful for the conversations being had across America about the reality of racial prejudice and injustice. Not every one of them is fruitful. Not every one of them is valuable. Some are downright incendiary. But, many, especially amongst our younger generations, are coming from a place of authenticity and a want for a more equitable and just future. There can be no doubt that until we start talking openly and honestly about racial injustice, we can never hope to overcome it.

After yesterday’s ruling that Darren Wilson will not be indicted for the shooting of Michael Brown, many Americans are feeling less than thankful. The deaths of young men like Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Tamir Rice have made it all too clear that not enough people can be grateful for the same experiences I’ve enjoyed.

My hope is we start talking to one another, attending school together, and living side by side in real ways. When that day comes—and I believe it will—then, we can all be truly thankful.

Giving Thanks by Giving Back: A BVP Scholar Blog

BVP Giving Thanks Blog Series- Part III

By Gladys Nyanti, a BVP ninth grade scholar

An expression of gratitude: that is the meaning of thanks. Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for what you have.

Most people think of Thanksgiving as just a day to eat. There’s more to it. We have clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet, and food on our tables. Some people struggle everyday to clothe their children and make sure their appetite is up to par. With my mom being a single mom, I realize it’s not always easy to make sure that everything is done.

Being a scholar at Blackstone Valley Prep has taught me that not only should you be enthusiastic in helping others, but you should also have integrity in all the work that you do. Integrity means that when I see a problem that may not fully concern me, I still put forth my best effort to help create a resolution, even though it may be temporary. That’s why this year, I finally decided to do something that I’ve been wanting to do since I was thirteen.

Since my birthday is in November, instead of asking for gifts, I asked my fellow scholars and teachers to bring in clothes and other items that I can donate to the homeless. The name of my clothing drive is “Clothe the Cold.”  This clothing drive is to help those in need and homeless people who are not as fortunate as we are.

Some of you may be familiar with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Raised a Catholic, I was taught this story when I was young. It's about two sons who receive their father's inheritance before he dies. One of the sons moves away and spends the money lavishly, going hungry during a famine that ends up forcing him to return home. The eldest brother stays on his father's land and saves the money. The father doesn't get upset with the younger son and still celebrates his return when he comes home. The eldest brother refuses to do the same, feeling bitter. The father reminds him that he still has his own half of the inheritance, but that his brother coming home is always a reason to celebrate and be thankful.

This story can be seen from different perspectives, but the way I see it is that many of us have much and are still ungrateful. Why is that? How is it possible for us to have so much and not appreciate what we have? This Thanksgiving, instead of being overly worried about the stuffed turkey, contemplate all the things you have.

I, for one, am thankful for all the people-- including faculty, staff and scholars-- who have made this drive possible so far by donating clothes. To further help those in need and the homeless, I will be creating care packages using the following items: socks, tissues, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and hats. Anything you can contribute, big or small, is greatly appreciated. If you are interested in donating these items or clothes, please contact the main office at 401.405.0320 or simply drop off items to the high school at 3357 Mendon Road in Cumberland. We will be collecting items up until December 5.

Thanks for giving thanks and being thankful this holiday season! Have a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What My Daughter and I Are Thankful For: Reflections from a BVP Parent and Scholar

BVP Giving Thanks Blog Series- Part II

By Kym Monteiro, BVP Elementary School 2 parent

Well, it seems like the easy answer to say we are thankful for our health, each other, and our family, but I think this year we have quite a few more things to add to that list.   

My daughter Autumn is in the first grade.  It’s our second year here at Blackstone Valley Prep, and we both have so much more to be thankful for as she gets older and enters a new grade.  (I don’t want to think about her going to second grade because I still look at her as my little nugget who is just a baby. Don’t tell her that, though— she considers herself a “big girl”).     

This year, we are so thankful for the new ES2 building on Broad Street.  It is just a great building and space.  My daughter LOVES the cafetorium and the new Kaboom playground, so I would say she is very thankful for that.    I asked her what she is thankful for about her school and she said that she is thankful for her teachers and her many friends.   

I too, am thankful for our BVP teachers and staff and our parent volunteers.   It’s the dedication of all those involved with BVP that makes me to want to try to make every FLC meeting, contribute to teacher donations, and/or just attend a school event because it is such a great environment filled with positivity.  

I can relate to my daughter’s gratitude for her friends because I am also thankful for all the new parents who I have met over the past two years.   Having great BVP parents who you can relate to or just talk with when you need to confirm a school event or a dress code is wonderful.   I treasure their friendships and know that we will be long-time friends even after our children graduate from college.     

One parent in particular that I am also personally very thankful for is my carpool mom, Liz Tavarez.  Her son Ethan Hannah is also in the first grade.   Without her, lord only knows how I would pick up my child every day from school.   Unfortunately, the bus is not an option for me.    I am also very thankful that she told me that we will be car pool moms until they graduate in 2026!   The thought of driving Autumn and Ethan to school every morning and seeing them get dropped off with big smiles as they enter their school building makes me feel very thankful knowing that Liz and I will be carpool moms for our entire BVP life! 

When I look at the entire picture, I am forever grateful, thankful, and so lucky to have had the choice to send my daughter to BVP. BVP is our second family and our home away from home.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Four Points of Gratitude From a BVP Head of School

BVP Giving Thanks Blog Series- Part I

As a kid growing up Thanksgiving was grounded in traditions-- the Coventry vs. West Warwick football game, more food than there was room in our bellies, looking at catalogs to create our Christmas lists, and enjoying the day with family. I assumed everyone celebrated Thanksgiving like me, and I definitely took for granted the blessings that had been bestowed upon me.   

Fast forward to the present--I am now a wife, mom, Mimi (the “G” word doesn’t quite suit me), and of course, a school leader.  I still live a life that is abundantly full of blessings, only now I have a deeper appreciation for them. Being an educator, one would think that I am strictly in the business of imparting wisdom on others. However, more than a decade in education has taught ME some life lessons about gratitude, appreciation, and the blessings that are truly worth being thankful for. 

That brings me to some things I am most thankful for in my life:
  1. I am thankful for my family:  I have a caring husband, Bob, who is definitely under-thanked by me (admitting it is the first step!).  My four daughters-- Caitlin, Alexandria, Madeline and Abigail-- have taught me the greatest lessons in my life, and continuously find ways to make me proud to be their mom. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention my grandson, Ben, who is just a month old, but has brought me more joy than I could have ever imagined.
  2. I am thankful for BVP families:  I have worked in other places, visited many schools, and conversed with educators from a variety of settings, all which have helped me to realize this: BVP is truly something special. Take a moment to think about how we are now over 1,200 families large, from four communities, diverse cultures, and a wide range of backgrounds, but we exist together for the very same reason--to prepare our kids for success in college and the world beyond.  How cool is that?! Like all families, we are both supportive and challenging of one another. But in the end, it is our underlying values that unite us and help us to propel our schools forward. Like many of you, I am a parent, and I recognize that it’s the hardest job on the planet.  It is for that reason I am so thankful for all that you do to support our school and grateful for the strong partnership that exists between BVP staff and families.     
  3. I am thankful for my BVP team:  There are teachers, hardworking teachers, and then there are BVP teachers.  Each day I am in awe of the passion, energy, commitment, and selflessness that our staff shows.  BVP teachers are deeply and personally invested in high expectations and maximizing academic achievement for ALL scholars, while also pushing themselves to grow as educators and become better teachers for their scholars. This year as a middle school staff we decided to focus on the concept of “Bucket Filling.”  We are constantly looking for ways to fill buckets by saying or doing things that show our appreciation and gratitude for one another and scholars. 
  4. I am thankful for BVP scholars: Really…are there any kids, anywhere, working harder than BVP scholars? I think not!  They are a source of inspiration for me, brightening my morning with their handshakes and ½ smiles (most middle school kids don’t smile, so a ½ smile is truly special).  It’s called middle school for a reason. Scholars are caught between wanting to enjoy all the delights of being a child, while yearning for the maturity and independence of young adults…and I get to watch it all unfold. Now that’s something to be thankful for!
All kidding aside, our BVP scholars have much to be thankful for, and they know it. Our middle school theme of “What’s your why?” revealed their true motivation for showing PRIDE, and in many cases it included making their parents, families and teachers proud. 

A “why” that really stuck with me belongs to an 8th grade scholar. She described her why as, “My mom; she struggled for me and now it’s my turn to give her everything she deserves.” To those who believe adolescents only think of themselves, you have not met a BVP scholar.  Not only do our scholars know how to be thankful, but they are also taking steps to pay it forward.  

Our "Socktober" sock drive to warm the feet (and hopefully the hearts) of homeless families in Rhode Island yielded over 1,000 pairs of socks.  That doesn’t happen by accident.  Kids care…

I have more proof.  Recently, scholars approached me asking that our school participate in a “pink out” by wearing pink to show support for those facing breast cancer and build awareness for this awful disease. I didn’t go to them, they came to me.  

Just today during WIN block, I met with a group of scholars who are working on writing legislation that would require teachers to receive anti-bullying training regularly.  These are our BVP scholars--they are who I am thankful for.   

Tom Rath and Donald Clifton write in their book, How Full is Your Bucket, “Every time you fill a bucket, you’re setting something in motion.” I am challenging you to fill buckets one drop at a time by acknowledging the blessings in your life, showing gratitude for them, and then paying them forward. If our scholars are doing it, we can, too.

May your buckets runneth over this Thanksgiving and beyond.


Joy Souza is the Head of School at BVP Middle School. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why I joined BVP

by Stephanie Gonzalez

I became an advocate for high expectations the second I stepped foot on a college campus.

My four years at Boston College were undoubtedly four of the most difficult years of my life. I was burdened financially.  At 17, I was navigating the all too dismaying financial aid office.   I begged semester after semester to be allowed to stay.  No young adult should ever have to do that. Though finances impacted my college experience greatly,  my most difficult moments were academic in nature.  It was evident through conversation and social interactions with my peers and professors that I had received a less than equitable K-12 education. I made a conscious decision after college to come back to Central Falls to advocate for raising expectations and rigorous college preparation so that college completion stories like mine become the rule and not the exception.

I was reminded of my experience last week when I attended a rally in Boston’s Faneuil Hall with BVP’s Executive Director (@chiachess) and Director of External Affairs (@jenlopiccolo) organized by Families for Excellent Schools and charter schools that provide education to Massachusetts’ families. We were surrounded by a sea of approximately 2,000 blue t-shirts worn proudly by scholars, teachers, and families. The shirts displayed a short, numerical, twitter-friendly message, #77000reasons.  That is, 77,000 children in MA  attending schools that are not preparing students for success. In other words, 77,000 children are en route to have a similar experience to mine.  Even worse, many are not en route to experience college at all. 

Attending the rally was one of my first assignments as a new member of the team.  I was there to observe and take note of one of the many ways in which advocating for great schools can be manifested. You see,  I joined the BVP Team as an Advocacy and Outreach Associate, a role that gives me the privilege to help empower families across the network to define, embody, and execute advocacy for school choice and high expectations.

My decision to take on this challenge  is inspired by many things: 
  • BVP’s intentional diversity created by enrolling students from four Rhode Island communities (my home of Central Falls included)
  • BVP’s unwavering commitment to high expectations
  • My personal narrative as a Central Falls High School alum

At the rally, every single mom and dad (yes, great schools are dads’ business too) who shared their story was inspiring.  I was particularly moved by a mother whose children attend one of the charter schools represented at the rally.   She reflected on her own education, being the first in her family to attend college, and her struggle to compete with her peers once she got there. Her story was very much reflective of my own: Latina, first-generation college student, and unprepared for the rigor of college. That is my story.  That is the story of many.

But I am hopeful and inspired by what I see when I walk through the halls of BVP schools. I’ve spent my first few days touring the schools, attending events, and introducing myself to staff at morning huddles.  I was moved by the morning huddle at the middle school earlier this week.  The Head of School, Joy Souza, acknowledged that it would be a long and somewhat crazy day, and she spent a few minutes expressing how much she appreciates her staff. Like me, Ms. Souza is a huge fan of Kid President and ended her huddle with one of his pep talks, For the Heroes.   That’s what great teachers are. Heroes. 

Today is my 10th day and every single day has only affirmed my excitement to be  part of this team.  I  look forward to building a community with families across our network that let’s the world know that we want high expectations, that we need everyone to get this done, that every single child matters, and that they cannot wait

Stephanie was born and raised in Central Falls, RI. She graduated from Central Falls High School in 2004 and became the first member of her family to attend college, graduating in 2008 with a BA in English from Boston College. Since her return to Central Falls, she has dedicated much of her time advocating for quality education for Central Falls families, taking any chance to promote college attendance and completion. She is a member of the Central Falls School Board of Trustees, Nowell Leadership Academy Board of Directors, YWCA Board of Directors, and Central Falls City Council.  She enjoys running, reading, and spending time with family.

Friday, November 14, 2014

My Take on the 2014 Rhode Island Ed Evaluation Results

Yesterday, the Rhode Island Department of Education released this report about educator evaluation in our state.  In short, the report shows that nearly every teacher and administrator in Rhode Island is Effective or Highly Effective.  Statewide, 98% of teachers are rated Effective and 56% of teachers reached the highest bar of Highly Effective.  The results really have me thinking, and many questions come to mind, including:

  • Is it really possible that with Rhode Island’s low proficiency rates and high achievement gaps on the New England Common Assessment Program that basically all of our teachers are Effective or Highly Effective?
  • Is it really possible that with almost 70% of the students enrolling in the Community College of Rhode Island need to take non-credit bearing remedial courses that everyone is Effective or Highly Effective?
  • Is it really possible that in our capital city 23% of teachers were chronically absent, yet 97% of Providence teachers Effective or Highly Effective?

Honestly, these results just don’t add up!  

Today’s Providence Journal addresses this issue, and the reporter, Linda Borg, notes the dichotomy of BVP’s data in particular: “The Blackstone Valley Prep [Mayoral Academy] in northern Rhode Island report[s] less than a third of their teachers are highly effective yet they show the most growth in student achievement.”  Does it really make sense that BVP’s rate of Highly Effective (HE) teachers are more than 20 points lower than the state average and trailing each of BVP’s four sending districts by double-digits (Central Falls 78% Highly Effective; Cumberland 46% HE; Lincoln 55% HE; Pawtucket 41% HE)?

This past June I met with my principals to review our final end-of-year data, and I was a little surprised.  While I am the first to say that I love our teachers, that they work incredibly hard, and that, by-and-large, they deliver great instruction, I actually worried that our scores were inflated. Indeed, based on my observations and data analysis, I expected my principals to present to me a wider distribution of results.  That 31% of our team was Highly Effective and that only one teacher was Developing was a red flag.  (That none were ineffective did not surprise me because we spend so much time selecting teachers on the front end and supporting them throughout their careers.)

The truth of the matter is this: if we are going to improve our schools, we have to be more courageous in our conversations about what it means to be an Effective teacher.  We need to seize the “fierce urgency of now” and get to work setting and holding the high bar for our educators that our students deserve.

Follow me on twitter @chiachess.

Monday, November 10, 2014

3 Scholars Discuss President Obama's Visit to RIC

On Friday, October 31, 2014, three #BVPHighSchool scholars visited Rhode Island College to hear President Obama address a capacity crowd. Here are our thoughts from this historic event. Special thanks to President Carriuolo and Mr. Pacheco at RIC for inviting us!

Before the guest of honor ever addressed the crowd at Rhode Island College, we had a lengthy and tedious wait in chilly weather. It might seem like an unlikely way for three high school scholars to spend Halloween, but we were waiting for the President: Barack Obama! As the man behind us said, “I will only stand for two and a half hours to hear the President speak.” We agree!

We genuinely did not mind sticking around for this once in a lifetime opportunity. Plus, the wait was not really all that bad (except for the legs cramps). We got to see some of the most influential people in Rhode Island, like up-and-coming politicians and educational leaders. We even had the opportunity to hear some of their views while they made small talk in the VIP section. It was an honor just to stand among those people. What really interested us was listening to their concerns and realizing that even famous people have regular people problems!

When President Obama stepped on the podium, he looked delighted and seemed cool, calm, and collected. He gave off a welcoming energy, but at the same time he had a look in his eyes that said, “I am here to do business.” President Obama spoke about the challenges facing women in the United States. American women are privileged to be treated with higher respect and given more options than in other countries. President Obama, however, wanted us to know that women are still being paid less for doing the same work as men, that some companies do not provided maternity leave for new moms, and that many women have to choose between a career and their family.

President Obama’s tone then became more serious and a fire sparked in his eyes. He told us about the trials that his mother experienced as a single parent and the obstacles that his grandmother encountered in her career in banking. This sensitive subject suddenly became personal for the president. As he shared these personal stories, the energy in the room was almost tangible. Here and there you could hear audience members shouting with jubilee: “Amen,” “I agree!”

President Obama touched on an issue that many Rhode Islanders, especially working women, had been waiting to hear. It was a pleasure to be standing there in that audience and we are extremely grateful for the opportunity that Rhode Island College and Blackstone Valley Prep gave us to hear this all firsthand!

Libio Marroquin
Gladis Ricuarte
Ryan Sosa