Mr. Bellino’s Graph of the Month

Adin McGurk and Maya Wilson

We love data. More specifically, we love Wilson data.

Digging into budget allocations, looking at enrollment trends, comparing GPAs across demographics—not the sexiest way to engage with your school. But working on The Beacon, understanding these figures is a necessity. We’ve been uniquely positioned to see both the administrative, quantitative side of Wilson and DCPS, as well as the more human side that most students are acquainted with. One of our biggest struggles and joys is figuring out how to take these numbers that feel so clinical and so irrelevant and showing people how these statistics affect them and why they should care.

So walking into Joseph Bellino’s office for the first time was a bit of a thrill for us. We joined the relatively few students given the privilege of associating the face that scans DC one cards every day at lunch with an essential cog of Wilson’s administration. The office is tiny. One wall is covered top to bottom with graphs depicting the exact values and statistics that we need to cover the quantitative side of Wilson; he has them posted with the express purpose of encouraging people to ask questions.

“I don’t like data,” Bellino told us on our most recent, and tragically last, visit to the data cave. “I like helping people learn about how they’re doing.” For Bellino, and for us, examining figures is a beautiful way to accomplish this. “The data chart itself doesn’t solve problems, but it engages people who are talking about it—that’s when you see problems solved.”

It was only natural for us to feel a sense of kinship with this man. Bellino has been wonderful to us since we first got to know him. He generates our graphs upon request, and beyond helping us with this column, he’s a geyser of general Wilson info—if he doesn’t have the answer, he’ll point us in the right direction. He is patient and deliberate, and he never fails to surprise us.

Most recently, we learned that Bellino has seven kids. How has this never come up before, we wondered. But as always, Bellino had more in store for us. “I was in the peace corps in Sierra Leone for three years.”

Bellino was working as a social studies teacher in a high school. “I thought it was so much fun to speak to the Africans in their own language and not need any translator. So I learned Mende which was the language of the town where I lived,” he said. “You never leave that experience of living in another country. Of being a foreigner. Of walking into a market and being the only white person there. And then getting used to it, just not even thinking about it.”

For Bellino, the entire experience was transformative. “I think what I learned actually redirected my life. I found that learning Mende made my experience so much richer. I knew my students’ families and I knew their backgrounds much more than if I had relied on a translator,” he explained. “I decided that I really didn’t want to be a social studies teacher, but I wanted to be a teacher of people who go to the US from other countries. That’s why I became an ELL teacher.”

When Bellino returned to the states, he pursued his newfound passion and began to work as an ELL teacher at Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland. But he wasn’t able to fully leave his experience in Sierra Leone in Africa—in his first week working there, he encountered one of the students he taught while at the peace corps at Blair, a woman named Doris. Over the next several years, he came to know her children as well.

Since then, Bellino has found his way into data coordination and Beacon assistance, using his various Anglicized African languages along the way, never failing to shock the listener.

The chart we asked Bellino to create for a final column shows the demographic breakdown of other high schools across DCPS. We thought students might find it surprising that outside of Wilson, there are virtually no white kids at other schools. This graph leaves us with a lot of questions, and we hope it does the same for you. If that’s the case, we recommend heading down to the main office and presenting Bellino with your queries. And one thing to keep in mind to stay on his good side: “I don’t like people who try and use data to keep you down. They should use data to try and encourage you to do better.”