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Bellevue Elementary Parents Urge District Leaders To Keep Their School Open

Bellevue Elementary Sign
About 250 students currently attend Bellevue Elementary, which has a capacity for about 360 students. That's why the district is considering closing the school. (Photo: Megan Pauly)

Richmond’s West End has been getting a lot of attention when it comes to the school system’s plans to rezone schools.

But they’re not the only area of the city that could see major changes. Some rezoning options propose closing Bellevue Elementary in Richmond’s East End, and sending kids there to a new school being built less than a mile away. But the Bellevue community is pushing back.

Transcript:

Bellevue Elementary sits among some of the most expensive homes in Church Hill, but 3 in 4 students here come from families making less than $30,000 a year.

I paid a visit to the school, to talk to some parents and students. As kids played in a classroom, I introduced myself to seven-year-old second-grader Jada.

Pauly: What do you like about school?

Jada: We get to have fun and learn a lot of things.

Jada’s mom, Sherrita Robertson, proudly sported a purple t-shirt with the Bellevue mascot, Bella the dragon.

Sherrita and Jada
Sherrita Robertson says she's happy with the school culture and community at Bellevue Elementary. Her seven-year-old daughter Jada says she likes her school, too. (Photo: Megan Pauly)

Robertson: We have t-shirts, we have sweatshirts, and it's every week where they're wearing some item that says Bellevue on it.

Compared to other elementary schools in the city, Bellevue is on the smaller side. About 250 students go here now, and according to district figures, there’s room for about 100 more.

That extra space is part of the reason Richmond’s rezoning committee has recommended potentially closing Bellevue, and re-routing kids like Jada to a brand new George Mason Elementary school being built less than a mile away. It can hold more than 700 students, about triple the number of kids at Bellevue now.

Robertson: My kids will not go to George Mason, will not under no circumstances.

Robertson and other Bellevue parents like K.J. Ricasata don’t want to lose the sense of community they have at Bellevue.

Ricasata: It’s the castle on the hill. I mean, it’s just awesome.

Ricasata says one reason for choosing this school: it’s the only fully accredited elementary school in the East End. And he suspects Bellevue is being targeted because it’s not at or above recommended capacity, like most other elementary schools in the city.

Ricasata: So why not try to pump up our attendance through wider open enrollment to take advantage of the great things that already go on here? It seems like closing it is like the opposite of what you should be doing. You should be bringing more students here, getting the Bellevue education.

Kelly Gilliam has two kids at Bellevue, and says she wouldn’t mind if more kids came to the school, either. But she says the fact that school isn’t full is actually helping the learning environment.

Gillaiam and Kids
Bellevue Elementary parents like Sherrita Robertson and Kelly Gilliam want their kids' school to remain open. (Photo: Megan Pauly)

Gilliam: I feel like this should be a model school of what they're looking for their other elementary schools.

Bryant: We saw kindergarten classrooms of 15 kids.

That’s Nora Bryant, president of Bellevue’s PTA. She says small class sizes are the secret ingredient to Bellevue’s success.

She says they can have a positive impact on students, especially young people in the East End who live in poverty.

Bryant: All the research that I have ever read or seen says that the number one thing that helps kids learn that have had traumatic pasts is the feeling of having a strong relationship with someone that you trust, feeling safe.

A number of Bellevue students have filled out surveys, saying they don’t want to lose their school. And a group of future Bellevue families wrote a letter to the school board expressing their desire to attend the school.

The school board is expected to formally hear rezoning proposals soon, and take a vote on changes by the end of the calendar year.

For Learning Curve, I’m Megan Pauly, VPM News.