Spotlight On Our Community Partner: William D’Abate Elementary School

Over the course of the academic year, over 200 elementary school students join the D’Abate Community School (DCS) for after-school programming through the Brown/D’Abate partnership
by Tosin Omolola, Savanna Illinger
May 16, 2023
Two young boys pose together with their arms around each other's shoulders on a sunny field.
Photo of Brown student teaching a young elementary school girl how to throw a paper airplane.

The approach to student development at William D’Abate Elementary School extends beyond the end of the school day. Over the course of the academic year, over 200 elementary school students join the D’Abate Community School (DCS) for after-school programming, which many continue through a four-to-six-week summer camp. The after-school program offers a wide range of activities and support, from help with homework to competitive chess play. DCS has a broad, holistic approach to student enrichment that works to provide resources that foster a supportive environment, uplifting not only students but also their families and communities. Much of that work is done through the after-school programming that offers students stability, structure and support via creative learning opportunities and connections with their peers. The program also supports the wider community by partnering with Providence Public Library’s Olneyville ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) program, which offers adult classes. 

The Beginning of a Partnership

The D’Abate/Brown partnership will be twenty-three years old this September. It began in 2000, as many things do, with a friendship. Lucille Furia, then-principal of D’Abate, and Peter Hocking, then-director of the Swearer Center, connected over the idea of building a mutually-beneficial relationship with the school. They began by enlisting Swearer Center senior program manager Dilania Inoa, who was doing youth development work with Brown students at the time as a program coordinator, and Marie Cora, who started the adult education program that would eventually become PPL’s Olneyville adult education program. DCS started by providing tutoring and science lessons during the school day, creating drama and writing clubs for after school, and providing nighttime ESOL classes for adults. Eventually, it blossomed into the comprehensive group of creative learning opportunities available today, including social studies, reading, writing, math and even chess. Inoa has now partnered with William D’Abate Elementary School for more than 20 years, supporting and leading the DCS program as it has grown exponentially over those two decades.

The D’Abate Community School is the intersection of three key partnerships. Alongside William D’Abate Elementary School and Brown University, ONE Neighborhood Builders has provided support since 2019. ONE Neighborhood Builders (ONE|NB) established itself in 1988 with a mission to develop affordable housing and, consonant with the DCS mission they support, approach the Greater Providence community holistically, by providing resources that promote health, safety, and community vibrancy. For instance, they lead the Central Providence Opportunities: A Health Equity Zone, making them the backbone of a team of over 60 community collaborators seeking to identify and break down barriers to health. ONE|NB began working with D’Abate when the after-school program received the 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant from the federal government through the Rhode Island Department of Education. According to Inoa, “At that point there was a shift; our then-director decided the money should live in the community instead of at Brown–it should be going to a community organization. So, we started having conversations with ONE Neighborhood Builders and they became the fiscal agent of the grant.” Alongside ONE|NB’s expertise and vision, the fullness of Brown’s connection to DCS comes in the form of its student volunteers through the Brown Elementary Afterschool Mentoring (BEAM), hosted through the Swearer Center. While DCS has always been supported by undergraduate student volunteers from Brown, BEAM did not become an official program dedicated to providing after-school enrichment at William D'Abate Elementary School until 2013. Each week, undergraduate student volunteers from BEAM create and implement unique lesson plans to teach a variety of subjects to K-5 students. BEAM currently has 58 student volunteers and five site leaders that each spends between five and six hours per week working with DCS students and meeting to plan lessons. 

The Partnership Today

When you visit the D’Abate Community School, students can be seen stationed all over the school at different activities, each attended by a teacher or student volunteer. During one particularly sunny visit last spring, it was impossible to discern, between the students, the staff, or the volunteers, who was having the most fun racing paper airplanes out on the playground. Peals of laughter rippled across the playground as some students’ planes raced out of reach, while other students raced forward, clamoring to have their picture taken together. Inside, classrooms were decorated with students patiently doing homework together, some helping each other on challenging math problems and some giggling as they waited eagerly for their turn to go outside. Downstairs in the cafeteria, two chess teams, one from a visiting school, competed in hushed exclamations, some players shushing each other as they leaned over the boards, focusing intently. (It’s important to note that William D’Abate Elementary School’s programming is currently hosted at Carl G. Lauro Elementary School while William D’Abate Elementary undergoes renovations.)

The D’Abate Community School gives students the chance to unwind beyond the classroom while remaining in the structure and safety of a school environment until their families pick them up. D’Abate Principal Brent Kermen knows how important, practically and socially, DCS’s programming is to the families who benefit from it, explaining, “a lot of the children get here at eight [but] don't leave here until 5:30 or 6 o'clock every day. So they're here for a very long time. We are helping to build little humans that will then become adults.” 

Inoa and Czenilriene Santander ‘23, a senior at Brown and 2021-22 BEAM site leader, understands the impact that an after-school program can have on students’ sociopsychological and emotional well-being by providing more flexibility to attend to their individual needs. It’s important work. Young students require genuine care for their personhood. Nurturing, to Czenilriene, “is really seeing someone for who they are in that moment and really taking the time to understand each kid.” Inoa agrees, adding “You have to get to know them first. A lot of our kids have been here since they were babies.” The students benefit from the many supports available to them at DCS, as Inoa explains the importance of “being that other adult in their lives who they can trust and cares for them, and who can always be there for whatever they may need–academically, socially, or psychologically.” 

The relationship between D’Abate and Brown has grown significantly since its beginning in 2000, but the work of the Brown students has remained largely unchanged. Aside from lava lamps and painting time, Czenilriene’s favorite part about working with D’Abate and BEAM is the opportunity to get off campus and encounter the beauty of the Rhode Island community. The students remind her to move beyond her desk and get to know the community. And it certainly helps that sometimes, community engagement looks like using Oreos to show the stages of the moon.