Donning green caps and gowns, more than 100 elementary school students received certificates in the gym at Fair Street International Academy Friday. There was a processional as the students walked in, special music, presentations by some of the students and a guest speaker.
It was graduation day.
Friday’s ceremeony marked the end of the 6-week Rise program, which stands for Real Interactive Summer-learning Experience. The program is a joint effort of Brenau University, Gainesville City Schools, Gainesville Housing Authority and the United Way of Hall County and is in its sixth year. It is designed to help students retain what they learned during the school year, according the Lauren Niles, a third-grade teacher at Centennial Arts Academy and one of two lead teachers in the Rise program.
“The kids learn all school year and then in the summer they do nothing and forget it all,” Niles said. “Then, you’re backtracking once August rolls around. That’s what we’re here for. We don’t really teach them anything new. We repeat those power standards, the important things they learned the previous year to help them get ready or stay ready for that next grade level.”
The program had about 110 students at Fair Street and another 15 at Melrose Apartments, according to Niles. She added that the majority of the kids live in apartments operated by Gainesville Housing Authority and nearly all come from Gainesville City Schools.
“It’s basically like school,” Niles said. “I think it helps; I really do,” she added. “Rather than them sitting at home watching TV, here they are at school. But we try to make it as innovative and fun as we can. We pick out those things they like to do, like slime. They get to mix it together and figure out what makes it work.”
In addition, the students received free breakfast and lunch, transportation to and from Fair Street, participated in activities like art, and technology and went on a field trip each Friday.
A staff of 18 includes eight teachers who are either classroom teachers like Niles or studying education at Brenau. There are also assistants who are mostly high school students or recent graduates. Niles said the staff works for Brenau.
Chelsey Brown, who graduated from the College of Education at Brenau in May and is entering graduate school there in August, is the other lead teacher in the program and oversees the Melrose site.
She said the program helps the students by “just making sure that children are retaining the information that they learned and kind of getting a look ahead of what they’re to expect next year.”
Alynne Grace, office manager for the College of Education at Brenau, said the program is designed to invest in the children as well as future teachers like Brown.
“She’s awesome. She’s why we do this,” Grace said of Brown. “As much as we do this for the kids, I think Brenau does it to invest in our community. Because we invest in our students, we want to make good teachers and the best way to do that is to put them in an environment where they’re teaching.”