First Rise Programs A generation ago in the United States, few resources were directed towards educating children with disabilities and preparing them for an active life within society. Just 50 years ago, children with Down syndrome or development differences were regularly institutionalized. They were denied a public education, resulting in middle aged adults with Down syndrome who could not read and had limited means to support and care for themselves.
In the 1970s, the federal government passed legislation requiring all public schools to provide an education to all children, regardless of learning difference under PL 94-142. It also handed out a few $50,000 grants for a pilot program called Rural Infant Stimulation Environment – RISE to see whether early intervention could help children with disabilities to learn. Both the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa received grants, but unfortunately, the funds were too small for the task, and all programs collapsed -- except for one.
Tuscaloosa was able to keep its RISE program alive, in grand part due to their incredible network of support, including Dr. Martha J. Cook, the university, and its well-known football coach Gene Stallings, whose son Johnny was born with Down syndrome, The Tuscaloosa program’s unique approach integrated children with and without developmental disabilities in their classrooms. Over the years, it honed its curriculum to help special children learn skills from birth until they enter regular public school.
Rise Comes to Texas In 1995, a Dallas family was blessed with the birth of twins, a boy and a girl. Shortly after delivery, doctors shocked the family by diagnosing their newborn son Michael with Down syndrome. Like many families continue to receive today, the doctors who delivered Michael gave his family dated and limited information and expectations, based on continuing pervasive misunderstanding of the abilities of people with Down syndrome to learn and succeed.
Undaunted and unwilling to believe in grim prospects for their little boy, his parents, Wendy Payne and John Poston, and his grandparents, Brenda and John Duncan of Houston, looked all over the country for resources for children with Down syndrome. They found that answer at The Rise Center at University of Alabama. They worked to build a similar program in Texas, and as a result, founded The Rise School for Dallas in 1998. Thanks to the years he spent as a young student at The Rise School of Dallas, Michael, the boy who inspired its founding, is now a confident, high school graduate working full-time and paying taxes.
The Rise School of Houston After their success launching a school in Dallas, the Houston community asked the Duncan's if they could help start a Rise School in Houston. John Duncan, worn down from the work of starting Rise Dallas, replied pithily, “Sure, if someone will give us a million dollars to start it!” Unbeknownst to them, their friends led a covert fundraising campaign, quietly raising $1 million to launch the school. In 1999, friends and colleagues surprised John Duncan on his birthday with news of the completed campaign. The school opened on January 20, 2000 with 17 students in classrooms created in an office building generously donated by Texas Children’s Hospital. The school hired Jan Stailey, a 30-year educator, as their Executive Director.
When there was no longer space to expand in the TCH office building, the board of directors decided to build a new facility which could double enrollment. In fall 2011, Rise completed the building on a prominent corner in the Texas Medical Center. This bright, beautiful building has capacity for 120 students. For more on the facility, click here.
Since opening, The Rise School of Houston has produced nearly 200 graduates, 99% of whom successfully entered mainstream kindergarten. To hear about their Rise experience and its effect on their lives, click here.
Beyond Houston Inspired by Houston and Dallas, The Rise School of Corpus Christi opened in 2007 and The Rise School of Austin opened in 2010. While each of the four Texas Rise schools and Alabama Rise are separate schools, they communicate frequently. Each is committed to the premise of an integrated environment of children with and without developmental disabilities in every classroom.
To learn more about the community’s need for Rise, click here.