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Students RISE to shine, avoid summer slump
Largest group of students completes learning program
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Students get lined up and wait for the Real Interactive Summer Learning Experience, or RISE, graduation ceremony to begin Friday at the Brenau Downtown Center in Gainesville. RISE is a partnership between several local organizations including Brenau University, the Gainesville Housing Authority, United Way of Hall County, Gainesville City Schools, the Hall County Health Department, Georgia Mountain Food Bank and others. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Nearly 125 elementary school students “graduated” from the fifth annual RISE — Real Interactive Summer-learning Experience) — program Friday morning.

The program, which had its largest group yet, is predominantly for lower-income students. In 2013, the program’s first year, it had 19 students.

Brenau University, United Way, Gainesville Housing Authority and the Gainesville City School System are sponsors for the six-week program.

The in-school summer camp focuses on lifestyle training, literacy and mathematics and gives students an opportunity meet and make friends with other children throughout the community, according to the Brenau public information office.

Former Gainesville City Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras, a teacher for 30 years, urged the students to remember “The Little Engine That Could.”

She led “I think I can” chants that became “I thought I could” at the top of the hill “and I did” for the finale.

Figueras asked the youngsters if they were ready to return to school and received a solid round of “noes.” After another round of “I think I can,” she got a more enthusiastic response about the start of school in just more than two weeks.

“RISE is meant to provide the opportunity for students to have fun while preventing summer learning loss,” said Tommye Thomas, Brenau University College of Education associate dean, “all while incorporating lifestyles training, literacy and mathematics.”

The students attend RISE daily at the Melrose Apartments and Fair Street Elementary School. They have classes, chants, songs and field trips among the activities.

Some RISE students have attended all five of the programs, staff member Sasha DeAnna Stovall said. The program had 21 staff members and eight volunteers.

Other organizations and agencies that participate in the program include the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation, the Elachee Nature Science Center, the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, the Hall County Health Department, Interactive Neighborhood for Kids and the Quinlan Visual Arts Center.

Seven Brenau students, including recent graduates and undergraduates, served as instructors during this year’s program.

William Campbell, principal at Fair Street, said the RISE program benefits his students in several ways.

Socially, it gives students an opportunity to interact with children from other schools and make friends from outside their own neighborhoods, a Brenau press release said.

“Last year, we did some data,” Campbell said. “When the kids first come back from summer break, we give them reading assessments.

“The kids that were in the RISE program, an overwhelming number of them didn’t suffer from that summer slump. They maintained their reading levels, and many of them even surpassed them.”

Campbell noted current Fair Street teachers Ana Hortman and Ashley Hamby are Brenau alumni, who participated in previous RISE programs.

About a dozen of the RISE students spoke — most very softly — at the Friday ceremony. Thomas Kendrick was typical. He said RISE is “an exciting program.”

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