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Summer program makes 'overwhelming' change in kids
More than 100 to graduate from RISE
Gustavo Ramos carefully walks with his egg as he competes in field day activities Wednesday morning at Fair Street Elementary with fellow RISE students.

The skating rink will skin your knees.

Lacing up those peanut-butter-colored rental skates, racing as fast as you can, gulping popcorn-flavored air as the lights blink and the bass thumps. For a kid, it’s an air-conditioned dream, a haven wallpapered in glitzy neon and floored with shiny wood paneling. But, if you fall down, the skating rink will take its toll.

“Skating is fun, but you get hurt if you’re not careful,” said Andrea Diaz of Gainesville. “When you fall down, you get up. You try again.”

These wise words come from an 8-year-old and recent graduate of RISE, a six-week summer learning program that aims to instill life lessons such as this. In addition, the collaborative enrichment program seeks to help low-income school children by eliminating summer learning loss in reading and math and promoting healthy life choices and nutrition during those months when kids aren’t in school.

Visits to spots like local farms, swimming pools and, yes, Skate Country are icing on the cake for these kids — all of which are attending a graduation ceremony Friday at the Brenau Downtown Center.

The program has grown significantly each year from its creation in 2012 with 19 students to more than 100 now. It’s a collaboration among Brenau University, Gainesville City Schools, the Hall County Health Department, Georgia Mountain Food Bank, Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation, Interactive Neighborhood for Kids, Elachee Nature Science Center, Quinlan Visual Arts Center and the Gainesville Housing Authority.

Jim Chapman, special projects coordinator with the housing authority, said the program addresses some common challenges.

“Many will fall behind their peers when they go on summer break, but for those who attend RISE ... it has proven extremely effective in helping retain knowledge,” Chapman said.

Added Chapman: “It’s like keeping them in school over the summer without them realizing it’s school, because these kids, they have a blast.”

Volunteer Sasha Stovall of Gainesville agreed.

“Seeing the change in these kids is overwhelming,” said Stovall, who is a recent graduate of Brenau University. “Over six weeks they will totally transform, and by the end of the program, they are changed forever. And, so am I. I will remember them, and they will remember me. We have a good time together.”

Exon Garcia, 7, of Gainesville, concurs.

“It’s fun,” Garcia said, smiling. “It’s just a lot of fun.”

Fellow program attendee Jared Torres, 8, said he likes going on field trips.

“Yes, field trips,” agreed Evelyn Marquez, 7.

As Marquez, Garcia, Torres and Diaz line up to graduate with more than 100 others on Friday, and their parents and peers applaud this accomplishment, it is the hope of all those who work together to keep this program going that they will remember the experience and retain the lessons learned in the classroom — or the skating rink.

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