In 2001, a group of local community leaders came together to respond to the severe crisis in education in the city of Lawrence, MA. A feasibility study held focus groups and gathered data that confirmed the need for a school that would focus on the educational needs of boys in Lawrence, who had a high school graduation rate of just 37% at the time. Bellesini opened in 2002 with 26 boys in grades five and six, growing to enroll 60 boys in grades 5-8 in 2004, and graduating its first class of students in 2005. 

In 2012, the Academy’s leadership began to consider how Bellesini could broaden its impact on the community. Specifically, the trustees focused on the many obstacles to academic and personal success facing Lawrence girls. The co-institutional girls’ school opened with one class of girls in 2015-16, and grew to full capacity, serving 60 girls in grades 5-8 in 2018-19. Bellesini now serves 120 boys and girls and offers support services to over 250 alumni.

The students Bellesini serves face tremendous odds, many of which became more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted the already struggling City of Lawrence, with up to 1/3 of its working population without employment. Lawrence has had one of the slowest recoveries, placing our families at risk for hunger, homelessness, and mental and physical health issues. 

  • After a year of remote learning, MCAS scores plummeted to a new low in 2021, with fewer than 20% of middle school students reaching proficiency on the Spring 2021 MCAS.
  • Lawrence is one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts. 71% of Lawrence students are low-income, compared to a statewide figure of 33%. Low-income students score lower on standardized tests and are 5x more likely to drop out of high school. Only 1 in 10 low-income students go on to earn a college degree.
  • The four-year high school graduation rate in Lawrence is among the lowest in the Commonwealth at just 71%.
  • College attendance in gateway cities such as Lawrence lags far behind other Massachusetts towns. Only 10% of Lawrence residents 25+ have earned a bachelor’s degree.
  • Lawrence is a “chronically underperforming district” that needs “substantial intervention.” Just 18% of Lawrence middle school students scored proficient on the 2021 English MCAS, 10% were proficient in math, and 15% in science.
  • Lawrence has one of the highest concentrations of limited English proficient students in the state. English is a second language for 72% of Lawrence students, compared to a statewide figure of 23%.
  • 94% of students in Lawrence are Latino. Latinos face significant challenges compared to their peers, including lower proficiency in math and reading and higher dropout rates. 35% of Latino males have not finished high school, and just 14% have earned a bachelor’s degree. Poverty rates for Latina women are three times those of white women.
  • The teen pregnancy rate in Lawrence is the 3rd highest in the state. Teens who become mothers are more likely to drop out of school and face a significant increase in economic insecurity.

Bellesini Academy addresses the issues of equity, inclusion, and poverty affecting its students by providing them with an outstanding, tuition-free middle school education, and an alumni support program that follows each graduate through private high school, college, and into the 21-century workplace. Since the Academy opened its doors twenty years ago, it has demonstrated the power of education to transform the lives of the young men and women it serves in Lawrence. The Academy’s goal is not only to help students in Lawrence achieve a college degree, but to help raise young men and women who become educated, active members of society. Overcoming the challenges faced by students of color in Lawrence is at the heart of our mission to break the cycle of poverty through education. The Academy has expanded its curriculum to teach students more about the importance of empathy, social justice, and service. As we focus on these issues, it becomes even more evident that providing access to excellent education has a transformative impact, not just now, but for the rest of our students’ lives. Providing hardworking young men and women with the opportunity to overcome the challenges of inequality and poverty is the foundation of our covenant with our students, our alumni, their families, and our donors.

Bellesini’s faculty and staff reflect the demographics of our student body and the community we serve: 60% are people of color, 69% live in Lawrence, 40% are Bellesini alumni, 50% of faculty are female, 50% of faculty speak Spanish, and 10% speak Vietnamese. 

Our alumni remain actively involved in our school community.  Five alumni work at Bellesini in full-time positions, including two faculty members and three members of the administrative team. In addition, Bellesini has five alumni working part-time during the school year, and an additional four working in our Summer Program.