Meet Alabama’s Newest B Corp: Valencia Belle & SCHOOLS
If you’ve ever met Valencia Belle, you know that she is a woman on a mission. And that mission is a lofty one, to eliminate intergenerational poverty by eliminating student loan debt and making higher education accessible to everyone. Her Mobile, Alabama based business, SCHOOLS, works with students to increase their ACT scores to enable them to not only enroll in colleges and universities, but to qualify for merit based scholarships.
She and her team are changing the trajectory of entire communities across the Southeast, from Miami to south Atlanta and throughout the Sunbelt in both rural and urban communities, many of them Title 1 schools in overlooked and underserved school districts (75% of the students SCHOOLS worked with in 2022 were from Title 1 schools).
The results, and impact, have been astounding.
Since 1996, 250,000 students have taken part in her ACT prep classes, boosting their scores by an average of +5-10 points. +100,000 students have enrolled in 4-year colleges and universities, +500 have enrolled in nursing school, and these students have collectively earned $250 million in scholarships. SCHOOLS also specializes in helping student athletes (Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, Georgia legend Nakobe Dean, and Super Bowl Winner Kadarius Toney to name a few), not only ensuring they are eligible to enroll, but also helping them qualify for academic scholarships alongside their athletic scholarships.
Starting last fall, we began working with Valencia on certifying SCHOOLS as a B Corporation, the gold standard of corporate social responsibility. And while there are over 7,000 B Corps, when we started working together, Alabama only had one, Transcend, a consulting company in Huntsville.
Now that we’ve gone through the verification review process and are officially certified, we thought we’d sit down with Valencia and talk about her work, why she chose to certify as a B Corp, and what’s next for SCHOOLS.
Alabama’s (now) three B Corps this September in Raleigh at BLD Southeast.
PPC: Valencia, it’s great to talk to you again. How are you doing and how is life as a certified B Corp?
VB: I’m truly blessed and becoming a certified B Corp feels surreal! I could never have imagined such a welcoming community of mission-driven entities. I completed my B Corp onboarding webinar on September 7, 2023, and have already connected with B Corps worldwide to collaborate!
PPC: So let’s talk about SCHOOLS, which I think we should share stands for Success Can Happen Out Of Low Scores. How did you get into this work and when did you know you had found your calling in life?
VB: Since age 12, starting my fee-for-service tutoring business 39 years ago, I’ve set out to make early ACT test preparation access the “rule” and not the “exception” for the under-resourced, facing the “wicked problem” of educational equity head-on using innovative ed-tech. I endeavored to become the first BIPOC female-led Benefit Corporation in the State of Alabama because I believed that access to high-quality, cost-effective ACT test preparation was as fundamental a right to quality education as access to clean water was to maintaining good health, as both are transformative aims listed on the call to action of the World Health Organization’s Sustainable Developmental Goals.
In keeping with the WHO’s call to action to end poverty and inequality–ensuring health, justice, and prosperity for all while protecting the planet–my company’s unique focus on goal-based learning using innovative ed tech ensures that all students obtain CCR credentialing and skills leading to employment and economic advancement, especially under-served students.
Our BIPOC and LATINX female-led network of educators and mental health providers serve under-served students across political, social, and racial divides. Our mastery-based ACT preparation teaching methodology addresses teacher shortage by hiring recent graduates, retirees, and veterans- our “Grads,” “Grands,” and “Veterans” Business Model- to allow disenfranchised workers to engage with the educational workplace without the need for Praxis examination or costly additional post-secondary teacher certification.
Our innovative ed tech methodology has reached over 250,000 students globally through virtual network effects, helping them to avert $250 million in U.S. student loan debt due to low ACT scores. We meet students where they are, from fear of past “high-stakes” ACT testing failures to future data-driven individualized ACT test preparation successes, using skillful intention and downstream focus to advance their CCR credentialing learner agency!
Dr. Belle at the Nike Coach of the Year Clinic in Atlanta this past February. She spoke to 150 high school coaches about the importance of making sure their student-athletes knew about the opportunity to earn an athletic *and* academic scholarship.
PPC: What do you wish people knew about your work, about this work, and about doing the work and seeing the results?
VB: I wish more parents knew that their children could take the ACT 12 times during their lifetime and the SAT had an unlimited number of times to superscore to a perfect ACT or SAT score! I wish more parents knew that they could begin ACT and SAT prep with SCHOOLS as early as the Third Grade! I wish more parents knew that SCHOOLS offers ACT and SAT prep in Spanish for ESOL students at no additional cost! I wish more parents knew that attending college DEBT FREE can be a reality with high ACT and SAT scores and high GPAs! I wish more parents knew that students could EARN from what they’ve LEARNED during their US K-12 education if they applied for more scholarships to pocket ACADEMIC and ATHLETIC scholarship refunds!
Our mission is to provide high-quality, cost-effective test preparation, raise ACT composite scores to merit-based scholarship levels, and eradicate inter-generational poverty from student loan debt. I wish more businesses donated to our non-profit to allow students who cannot afford to pay for our test prep or the ACT or SAT registration fee the chance to experience both! Some students are 1 point away from achieving college admission or the chance to play at the college of their dreams!
PPC: One thing I hear from social entrepreneurs is “We’re already doing all of this good work. Why should I do all of this work and pay for this B Corp certification?” Why did you feel like it was important to become certified?
VB: Certification separates novices from experts in my humble opinion. It’s the exact reason I became an ACT Certified Educator as well! Consumers need to have a reliable way to distinguish the quality of the services they are receiving (in terms of ACT prep) and the integrity of the businesses they choose to do business with (in terms of B Corps)! Becoming certified as a B Corp gave my company the ability to showcase our commitment to our mission and vision in a tangible way! To have global authorities review and evaluate our core values to ensure alignment was an INVALUABLE experience! B Lab Global made sure we WALKED the WALK we TALKED!
One of the best panels at BLD Southeast, the Social Impact Burnout panel. Dr. Belle joined Christina Noel, Lavonya Jones, and Mary Fehlig for a discussion about balancing the long hours required to change the world with the need for personal care and strong mental health.
PPC: Why is it important to grow the B Corp community in Alabama and the Southeast?
VB: V B Ideas LLC / SCHOOLS stands as the second B Corp in the State of Alabama, and the state’s first BIPOC, Female-Led B Corp. Both of the B Corps in the State of Alabama are led by women, as Transcend (the other Alabama B Corp) is led by my mentor Mrs. Laura Huckabee-Jennings. There is no B Local Alabama organization for companies to interact with the two Alabama B Corps to foster collaboration as there are in other states.
As a recent Doctoral graduate of the University of Southern California (Fight On Trojans!!!!), I was surrounded by B Corps virtually while enrolled in classes in California, but had no interaction with B Corps in my local community. In 2022, California had 320 B Corps. My neighboring states of Mississippi and Louisiana had NONE and TWO, respectively, in 2022! The Southeast needs more B Corps! I know there are businesses doing good work in the Southeast that are not completing the B Impact Assessment for whatever reason! PPC [Profitable Purpose Consulting] and VB Ideas LLC need to create a coalition to change that, especially for BIPOC and Female-Led Corporations in the Southeast!
PPC: What’s next for you and for the company?
VB: As for me, I’m still celebrating becoming a B Corp and earning my USC Doctorate, both incredibly challenging accomplishments that I am forever grateful to my “tribe” of supporters, mentors, and family members for their unwavering love and encouragement throughout both processes! Neither the BIA assessment or defending a dissertation are undertakings for the “faint of heart”, to say the least! As a company, we’ve recently expanded our test prep services to Hawaii, Nigeria, the Bahamas, St. Eustatius (Dutch West Indies), and Australia! Becoming a globally Certified B Corp couldn’t have come at a better time! Having the B Corp stamp of approval has opened many doors for international business opportunities!
PPC: Valencia, we’re honored to call you a friend. Thank you so much for sharing your time, talent, and treasure with us. Let’s keep building this thing together!!!
Profitable Purpose Consulting is a full service culture and impact agency that specializes in B Corp certification. While they’re headquartered in Georgia and their heart is in the southeast, they work with clients around the world and have a network just as global. At PPC, it’s not just the certification, it’s successfully implementing every part of the process and telling the story of the good you do