[caption id="attachment_225860" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] (L-R) EastSide Charter School CEO Aaron Bass, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki, Barclays CEO Denny Nealon and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons pose with student and Barclays' donation Monday. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
WILMINGTON – EastSide Charter School has grown from humble beginnings 25 years ago to become a beacon in northeast Wilmington, beating the odds to graduate students who are gainfully employed or pursuing college degrees.Its work and future received another big boost Monday morning, when international banking giant Barclays’ Wilmington-headquartered U.S. Consumer Bank announced a $1 million donation to the school.
[caption id="attachment_225859" align="alignleft" width="300"] This $22 million expansion will include a STEM Hub that leaders hope helps lift up the entire community. | PHOTO COURTESY OF EASTSIDE CHARTER SCHOOL[/caption]
The investment, to be allocated over three years, will support the expansion of the school, the construction of the Community Discovery STEM Hub, and continue the bank’s mentoring program.The independent charter school is investing more than $22 million into the expansion that will allow it to serve more than the 474 students it does today, return its Honors program to the campus from temporary space at the nearby Teen Warehouse, and open the STEM Hub that is also supported by a $4 million donation from Chemours.“EastSide is bursting at the seams right now,” said Charlie McDowell, the board chair for the school, who noted that the expansion will allow it to double the cafeteria size, add classrooms and offer communal space.The project is supported by New Markets tax credits from Cinnaire, loans from Discover and U.S. Bank, and donations from supporters like Barclays and Chemours down to individuals. The school is still looking to raise about $3 million to complete fundraising for the project, but they expect to break ground on the expansion located in EastSide’s current parking lot before the end of the year, said Aaron Bass, the school’s CEO. It's scheduled to open for the 2024-25 school year.The expansion won’t just benefit students though, as EastSide is partnering with the Wilmington Public Library, which will staff the space after school hours and on weekends as a satellite branch of sorts to provide job training opportunities, cultural programs, community celebrations, and more. It’s an opportunity to add to the growing revitalization of northeast Wilmington underway with the grander REACH Riverside initiative.“America knows how to gentrify really well. We've never learned how to make a model that is impactful for the people that need it the most. And that's what we want to see happen here,” Bass told Delaware Business Times.
[caption id="attachment_225862" align="alignright" width="300"] Barclays CEO Denny Nealon said the bank feels a responsibility to give back to its local community. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
The Barclays-EastSide connection is not new, as the bank has partnered with the school for 20 years as its associates have mentored the 850 of the school’s students. The bank also donated $600,000 some years ago to build the school’s playground, athletic fields and communal space.That commitment to the K-8 charter school that serves city students, more than three-quarters of whom come from low-income households, starts at the top with Barclays CEO Denny Nealon, who has personally served as a mentor along with his wife. The Barclays connection started when then-bank community relations director Jocelyn Stewart encountered the school and discussed it with leadership.“I heard about it, and I just raised my hand. I want to be a part of that,” Nealon told DBT. “We feel that we have a responsibility to give back to our communities.”Since then, the bank has hired a mentor coordinator to encourage and place associates in the program and provides for them to meet with students for an hour every week.The donation also aligns with Barclays’ workforce development goal of putting 250,000 people into good jobs by 2024, Nealon said.“We're trying to create inclusive, thriving communities; and we believe in giving people the training and the experiences they need to not only gain the skills, but also the confidence needed to be successful. And it starts with a great education,” he said.
[caption id="attachment_225861" align="alignleft" width="300"] Today, EastSide Charter School serves 474 students in grades K-8, but it will serve more after an expansion opens in 2024. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
One such success story would be Naseem Matthews, an EastSide and Howard High School grad who now works as a construction project coordinator for Battaglia Associates. He was mentored by McDowell and went on to tutor other students.“I can truly say that the mentor program here at EastSide charter has given me everything I needed to develop into the person I am today,” Matthews said.Bass, who took the helm at EastSide in 2016 after leading college-prep schools in Philadelphia for low-income families, said the involvement of business leaders made a major difference in his school.“I think it means a lot. You have national companies that could just not spend any time at a small Wilmington school and no one will fault them for it, but because they do, we're better positioned to have an impact here,” he told DBT.