Each summer Brenau partners with the Gainesville Housing Authority, Gainesville City Schools, United Way of Hall County, Jackson EMC Foundation and other local organizations and businesses to offer the RISE program, which helps prevent summer learning loss among local children. Over 100 students in Gainesville and Hall County school districts participate for free, all of whom are from low-income families. The students review subjects they learned during the previous school year; take classes in art, music and culinary art; and go on several field trips.
Brenau tracks the progress of the program’s students, and our research has revealed that RISE is effective in reducing summer learning loss, showing significant improvement in math and reading. To celebrate the children’s hard work over the summer, a RISE graduation ceremony is held. Students receive certificates of achievement and gifts, and they put on a performance for their friends and family.
The RISE dream began as a question brought to a focus group of Brenau University students by William Lightfoot, then dean of the School of Business & Mass Communication at Brenau. Lightfoot asked what could be done to help local, lower-income kids with education and hunger. His students at the time — a combination of occupational therapy, business and education students — developed the idea for a turnkey, community-run program involving several social nonprofit government and nongovernment service organizations, and educational institutions to combat summer learning loss in elementary school students.
The students presented their idea in a national competition for social entrepreneurship at an Appalachian Ideas Network conference in Kentucky, and won. With the help of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation, which supports the Appalachian Ideas Network, they came back to Gainesville and got to work implementing it.