Jackie Bello has always known that she wanted to be a teacher. She is the daughter of two public school teachers, and her brother teaches as well. After graduating from college, she applied for Teach for America and asked to be placed in Baltimore City. She loved her time teaching at Northwestern High School, where she was named one of Baltimore’s Outstanding Teachers of the Year in 2010.
However, she felt called to find a way to balance her love of working directly with a small number of students and working more broadly to have impact across systems. She enrolled in a joint degree program at Stanford University, where she received an M.A. from the education school and an M.B.A. from the business school.
At Stanford, Bello met her collaborator, Rajan Patel, an engineer and social entrepreneur. After graduation, Bello was also eager to get back to Baltimore, a city she is passionate about. “I love the pride and strength of this city,” she says.
Together, Bello and Patel co-founded Dent Education, an afterschool “design thinking” program, in January 2017, in response to what they saw as a need to empower students, particularly under-resourced students and students of color, with the skills and mindsets to become future changemakers.
Bello will use her Community Fellowship to grow and expand her afterschool programming into additional city schools. Bet on Baltimore will teach creative problem solving through “design thinking,” prototyping and entrepreneurship to city at-risk youth.
Building off of Patel’s engineering background and Bello’s education experience and boundless energy, the project’s goal is not necessarily to teach students how to invent something, but to give students the confidence to make their own lives and the world around them a better place through creative problem-solving, whether that’s through a new product or social program.
Bello’s enthusiasm for her work and the city is tempered by the magnitude of challenges facing Baltimore. In the face of barriers like systemic racism, “the world can be a really frustrating, overwhelming and discouraging place,” she says. “I want my students to know that they can do something about it. I believe in their ability to make a dent in the universe and have positive impact.”
Dent’s curriculum is based on an intensive model over multiple years – small cohorts of students work with coaches to learn the design thinking process: empathize with and understand the community; define the need; brainstorm solutions; create prototypes; test and iterate through failure, and actually launch real ventures. The culminating product is not just a business plan; it’s real world, entrepreneurial experience that will help students develop the creativity, problem-solving and social skills needed for the 21st century innovation economy.
As a Community Fellow, Bello will explore how to grow Dent’s model to provide programming at more schools. She wants to be in five schools by next summer. But, in growing, there are also challenges such as managing logistics. It was difficult to get students from West Baltimore to the Foundery in South Baltimore, for example. As Dent expands, they will need to develop a network of partnerships across the city, so students can easily access the programming.
In addition to helping Dent expand, Bello is thrilled to be part of the OSI Fellows network because she sees this as a great professional development opportunity and a chance to expand her own network for the benefit of her students.
“I believe education is the most important civil rights issue of our time,” Bello says. “And the way I am meant to change the world is that I know how to motivate and energize high school students. I was meant to work with youth.”