Founded in 2008, Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW) is the city’s first all-girls charter middle and high school, enrolling more than 500 students. BLSYW’s goal is to create a perpetual pipeline of homegrown, exceptional, diverse, women change-makers to provide Baltimore with the civic and business leadership it needs for a future of achievement.
Development Guild is proud to partner with the School on their search for a Director of Development. We recently sat down with Chevonne Hall, BLSYW’s Chief Executive Officer, to discuss the significance of philanthropy and what it means for the School’s future.
Development Guild: Why is building a philanthropic program a top priority for you?
Chevonne: Building a philanthropic program is so important because the progression of our school is hugely impacted by giving. To put it in context, we receive a little over $9,000 per student each year through city funding. However, we’re expected to achieve the same outcomes as an all-girls independent school in the same area that charges more than $30,000 per student in tuition. With that in mind, philanthropy not only helps us close the equity gap, but the access and opportunity gaps, as well. It levels the playing field and allows us to provide an education that prepares our students for success beyond high school. I’m very excited about building a philanthropy team and program to do that.
How does philanthropy impact the education and experience you provide?
Philanthropy means we can offer our students, families, staff, and alumnae what some might consider extras, but we consider essentials.
Philanthropic support helps us prepare our girls for success in college and in their careers. We have a full-time director of college counseling and full-time associate director of alumni support. Each year, for students who are in the top tier of their graduating class, we accompany them on a college visit to their top choice prior to submitting their application; this is at no cost to them. Additionally, if the student ends up receiving a stronger financial aid package from another college, we will accompany them to visit that school as well.
We also provide in-house SAT prep, starting as early as 10th grade, and we’re able to cover the fees for students who qualify to participate in our dual-enrollment program with the University of Baltimore and Baltimore City Community College. Through this partnership, students can graduate with more than 16 credits from an accredited university.
Beyond college prep, philanthropy allows us to support the whole girl, through the lens of extracurricular activities. We are one of the few schools in Baltimore City with a competitive robotics team. Robotics is one of the most expensive extracurricular activities for an urban school because it requires purchasing new and updated technology on a yearly basis. The support we receive has allowed us to have a thriving robotics program for the past 5 years.
Philanthropy also directly impacts our teachers. In Baltimore, teachers have to pay in advance to attend conferences, and then wait more than 4 weeks for the fees to be reimbursed. For many teachers, that isn’t an upfront expense they can afford. Through philanthropy, we are able to provide our teachers with a grant to cover the cost in full. All we ask for in return is that the teacher shares whatever practice/information they learned at the conference with their colleagues and students.
Lastly, philanthropy means we’re able to provide gap funding for our alumnae. Many of our girls are first-generation college students; when the pandemic began, many didn’t have the financial resources needed to fly back home at short notice. We were able to cover the cost of plane tickets and packing supplies for many of our alumnae. We were also able to help them store their belongings, as needed, and apply for financial aid credits, etc.
All of this is possible only through philanthropy.
How have you been able to respond to and plan for COVID-19?
Our first priority was to make sure our families’ basic needs were being met – that they had the food and supplies they needed. Our staff all pitched in and met at the School one weekend, and while wearing PPE, we divvied up the food we had purchased and then delivered it to 11 families in need.
Now, 7 weeks into virtual learning, we are always thinking about how to ensure continuity of learning while not diluting the quality and service our girls (and their families) have come to expect from the BLSYW Brand. Some of our student’s homes are completely outfitted with technology, while some students had access only to a cell phone, while others didn’t have Wi-Fi. We have been working to make sure all students have Wi-Fi and access to a laptop; this has been a top priority for us for a while, and the pandemic has only accelerated this. In the meantime, we’re providing lessons on applications that are accessible through a cell phone, such as Google Hangout and Instagram Live.
We’ve also started a wellness hour, which takes place multiple times per week. Our dance teacher, PE teacher, and theater arts teacher have all led a wellness hour. It’s important to us to support our girls’ mental and physical well-being.
And of course, we want to support our families too. At the start of each week, we share a schedule informing them of all activities that we have planned; our goal is to help maintain a sense of order and normalcy. We have transitioned our monthly, in-person meetings—Family University, as we call it—to be online. Our discussions are always wide-ranging – everything from what to do when you’re getting tired of leftovers to how to provide for your children while maintaining your own sense of self. We want to support our families, and they help us figure out how to best serve them and their girls.
One final question – what would you share with someone who is considering applying for the Director of Development position?
I’d share that our School is unlike any other organization in the city. If you are looking for the opportunity to stretch your professional capacity, we are it. This is a stellar chance for someone who is ready to roll up their sleeves and join us in the work. This is the hardest and most humbling job I have ever had in my life, but you see the rewards every June, every year. It will keep you coming back.