School leaders Osvaldo Jose Martí (Greater Philadelphia ’07) and Colleen Colarusso (Miami-Dade ’06) share how nationally ranked Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) Mayoral Academy is expanding educational access in Rhode Island.

Teach For America Alumni Commit to Reshaping the Education Landscape in Rhode Island

A look at the collective impact Teach For America alumni are having at Blackstone Valley Prep.
Wednesday, June 28, 2017

School leaders Osvaldo Jose Martí (Greater Philadelphia '07) and Colleen Colarusso (Miami-Dade '06) share how nationally ranked Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) Mayoral Academy is expanding educational access in the Ocean State.

 

Intentionally Diverse

Intentionally Diverse

Colleen Colarusso (Miami-Dade '06)

 

At a time when Rhode Island public schools remain among the most segregated in the country, BVP’s staff, scholars, and families are proving that a zip code does not need to determine educational opportunities.

“What makes Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy unique is, by design, its intentional diversity. We serve two urban and two suburban communities, unified by one mission to support the academic success of all students,” says BVP’s chief schools officer, Colleen Colarusso (Miami-Dade '06).

Colarusso began her career in education as a corps member in Miami-Dade, where she taught kindergarten in some of the poorest areas of the city. Driven by her experience in the classroom, she enrolled at Harvard’s Mind, Brain, and Education Program to focus on working with students in underserved communities.

Colarusso joined BVP after graduating, shortly before it opened in summer 2009. As a founding member of the school’s kindergarten team and Head of School for Elementary School 2, she’s seen BVP evolve into a multischool network where close to 1,600 K–11 students from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds perform at equally high levels.

Diversity remains a hallmark of the schools success. This year Black Stone Valley Prep was named School of the Year award by the Diverse Charters Schools Coalition.
Diversity remains a hallmark of the schools success. This year Black Stone Valley Prep was named School of the Year award by the Diverse Charters Schools Coalition.

To maintain a “diverse by design” integrated learning environment, BVP draws evenly from urban and suburban districts, and to achieve income diversity, the selection is weighted to ensure that at least 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

BVP continues to attract applicants for its college prep curriculum, character education, and extended day. But its diverse student body that surpasses state averages on standardized tests in nearly every grade is what is really turning heads and garnering praise.

“Rhode Island is literally the small but mighty state in a lot of ways,” says Colarusso. “To see the diversity play in and out of the community we serve is inspiring. We are truly challenging the status quo.”

Engaging families. Building community.

Engaging families. Building community.

Mina and daughters Juliana (rising sixth grader) and Tatiana (rising eleventh grader)

 

Mina Delgado discovered BVP when looking to enroll her daughter Juliana in kindergarten six years ago.

“We loved their philosophy on educating college-bound scholars, so we applied,” says Delgado. “Our vision was always for the girls to go to college, to be professionals, and do a little better than the previous generation.”

BVP operates under the firm belief all scholars can achieve and become successful college students. In doing so, they intentionally work to foster a college prep culture by incorporating elements of college pride into everyday school life, whether by naming classrooms after colleges and universities, or through campus trips as early as kindergarten.

Both Mina’s daughters attend BVP, with Tatiana starting tenth grade and Juliana fifth. As for college plans, Juliana likes Johnson & Wales University, whereas Tatiana is thinking about going out of state. Tatiana also likes the open conversations they have in class about the future. “Growing as people is something that we always talk about,” she says.

When asked how BVP is preparing her daughters for future success, Delgado feels that the school’s rigorous standards-based curriculum and inclusiveness will serve them well. “My girls are learning to work with scholars whose backgrounds are different than their own,” says Delgado. Both girls agree. “I like the diversity of the students, and even the staff and teachers the most,” says Tatiana.

Delgado delights in this kind of emotional and personal growth. “They have an awareness of who they are and how they are part of this community at BVP. I like the idea that my daughters are on a journey to achieve their highest potential, and BVP is an integral part of it.”

"Our family loves and benefits from the richness that comes from the integration of our four communities."
—Mina Delgado, Parent at BVP
Rising leaders. Rising mission.

Rising leaders. Rising mission.

Osvaldo Jose Martí (Greater Philadelphia '07)

 

At BVP’s newest middle school, Osvaldo Jose Martí (Greater Philadelphia '07) is weeks away from completing his first year as principal.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” says Martí. “It’s a very big task that’s both constantly challenging and constantly rewarding at the same time.”

Martí started at BVP as an administrator for the existing middle school and elementary schools and is a familiar face to students and their families.

Parents have his number and know he’s always available to talk. If he sees there’s a particular family or student he hasn’t spoken with recently, he reaches out to them, even if it means just a quick hello on the ride home.

“Making sure families are heard is a huge priority,” says Martí. “It’s one of the great parts of the education at BVP. If BVP had been an option for me growing up, I would have loved to have been a student here.”

Martí moved to the States from the Dominican Republic when he was five. After relocating to Rhode Island in the eighth grade, Martí struggled with the proficiency issues many English-language learners face, growing up in state where such students still have some of the lowest performances in the nation.

Martí’s parents took him out of public school in the hope that he would receive the individualized academic attention he needed to flourish, and he did. Later, Martí received a full scholarship to Providence College.

“We work with all of our teachers to lead culturally responsive classrooms, ask them to examine their own predisposed biases and judgments, and look for opportunities to encourage scholars to do the same as part of their own learning.”
—Executive Director Jeremy Chiappetta (New York ’95)

Inspired by the teachers who helped him succeed and the inequity he witnessed growing up, Martí joined the corps after college and spent two years teaching math in Philadelphia. From there, he coached future educators at Teach For America for three years, which fueled his next calling. As Martí says, “I realized I wanted my own school in the state I grew up in: Rhode Island.”

Now a principal and flourishing school leader, he’s doing what he set out to do: providing kids—no matter whether from the suburbs or the Dominican Republic—with the kind of personalized and diverse learning that bridges gaps and creates well-rounded scholars and people.

“It’s about the whole student,” says Martí. “And it takes a team of dedicated teachers and staff who can provide the expertise and supportive environment necessary for success. All of this takes time, but it’s worth it.”

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