By Juan Diasgranados
NABJ Black News & Views
A 2021 graduating class of 50 girls at a Brooklyn high school has made history with a 100 percent college acceptance rate.
Brooklyn Emerging Leaders Academy (BELA), an all-girls charter school located in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York City, first opened its doors in 2017 in an effort to empower young women of color and provide them with the resources and support needed to move on to college and beyond.
Did all of this come as a surprise to Nicia Fullwood, the Head of School? Absolutely not.
“It wasn’t a surprise. It was an expectation,” Fullwood said. “Part of what this is about is rewriting the narrative of what folks think about Black and Brown girls. For them to do this really changes the game.”
Accomplishing such a feat was not easy, especially during a pandemic. And the pressure was on. This was the first graduating class at BELA, and the girls were still expected to complete their rigorous college preparatory curriculum, service learning initiatives and spirit of ownership virtually. Tutoring, one-on-ones with staff and the fellowship amongst classmates helped each of them push through.
According to Fullwood, last year’s senior class was 90 percent Black and 4 percent Latinx. And more than 75 percent of the graduating class are first generation college students and are the first in their families to attend college.
As a collective, the girls were accepted into more than 150 colleges and racked up nearly $1 million dollars in merit scholarships, an incredible feat for a class of only 50 girls.
In celebration of the girls’ 100 percent acceptance rate, the school recently threw a “college shower” where the graduates received care packages with dorm supplies, duffle bags and wireless headphones.
“I feel like we’re on the precipice of a new movement with this school,” says Nyasia Bailey, the 2021 Valedictorian. “I feel like a leader. It feels amazing to graduate with so many amazing girls and have all these woke teachers who’ve guided me this whole time.”
Bailey was very involved as a student, having studied in Peru one summer and completing the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, along with 50 percent of her classmates. The expectations are high at BELA, and the sisterhood and relationships that are fostered are just as evident.
“These are relationships they’ll have for a lifetime,” said Fullwood.
Everything became real for Bailey when her classmates began to receive their acceptance letters last Fall.
“My heart was so full that everyone was getting acceptance letters from all these great colleges,” Bailey said. “It took a minute for mine to come in [but once it did], it made me feel like all my hard work was worth something.”
Some of the schools the graduates will be attending this Fall include New York University (NYU), St. Johns University, and Delaware State. Bailey will be attending Sarah Lawrence College and will study journalism.
A strong mother figure to her graduating class, Fullwood couldn’t be prouder. Now the challenge begins for her next senior class starting their senior year later this month.
“They’re trailblazers, they’re innovators, they’re pioneers,” she said. “There’s not a word in the dictionary to describe how proud I am of what they have accomplished. These are the things that need to happen to change the narrative around girls of color. They are rewriting history.”