Ciara Maldonado and Berenice Lopez, 6th graders at Bellesini Academy in Lawrence, are pictured with a banner of the school's patron saint. Pilot photo/Donis Tracy
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LAWRENCE -- Located in the heart of Lawrence, one of the poorest cities in America, is a small school with very big aspirations. Bellesini Academy, a tuition-free Catholic middle school for grades 5 through 8, aims to "build bridges for a brighter future," as its motto explains. So far, it has accomplished its mission.
According to Julie DiFilippo, head of school, when the school first opened its doors in the former St. Francis Lithuanian Church in 2002, the graduation rate for male Lawrence high school students was an "appalling" 29 percent.
In the 14 years since the school opened, she has seen her students break that cycle.
"Our graduation rate is 100 percent," she said with pride. "99 percent of our students go on to a private high school. 87 percent go on to college; 10 percent go on to a trade school. Not one of our students has ever dropped out of high school."
"Our aim is to break the cycle of poverty through education," she added.