Since its inception in 2000, The Rise School of Houston has had nearly 100 graduates complete its program. A few of our first graduate families have graciously shared their stories of the impact Rise has had upon their children.
Written by his mom, Cristen Reat:
When Vincent was born with Down syndrome nearly 9 years ago, I had no idea what was to come. Until I visited The Rise School, I had no idea that kids could be in a class along with regular kids. It simply had not occurred to me. When I visited Rise, I had a glimpse of children with Down syndrome actively playing, singing, learning…children with Down syndrome interacting with typically developing children as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I have no doubt that if I hadn’t seen The Rise School’s vision of what life could be like for a young child with Down syndrome, I would not have had any expectations at all.
I felt that our six years at Rise was the most special time in Vincent’s life and in the life of our family. It was a time of figuring things out about Down syndrome with incredible support from a caring and expert staff. It was a time of learning a whole new vocabulary. We also learned that the Rise philosophy centers around an inclusive learning environment—kids with Down syndrome interacting with their typically developing peers. Expectations are high for all children, and each year the curriculum prepares students for ever-increasing academic and social challenges.
Vincent is now in 2nd grade in a regular classroom with his same aged peers, and he is thriving. Because of the outstanding preparation, high quality of early childhood education, and intense therapy he received at Rise, we expect Vincent to continue to do well. Tailoring curriculum to Vincent’s strengths and supporting him where he needed help most, helped us prepare for higher expectations of what Vincent was capable of, thanks to skilled and experienced teachers. Our family expresses its deepest gratitude to The Rise School.
Written by her dad, Martin Cano:
Abby Noel Cano is a 2004 graduate of The Rise School of Houston. Abby was born with Down syndrome in 1997. At the time we were unsure what her world, or ours, would be like. We were unaware of Abby’s condition until after she was born and were caught completely by surprise when the doctor’s made us aware. After getting beyond the initial shock of having a child with a disability we began moving forward with her into the future. A chance meeting with Coach Gene Stallings in College Station, Texas would forever change our family’s future. Coach Stallings suggested we should check into a new school which had just opened in Houston, Texas, The Rise School of Houston. After a discussion with my wife, we decided to look into the school. We visited the school shortly thereafter, meeting with the staff and visiting the classrooms and facility. With staff to student ratios a parent could only wish for, a therapy room and a playground, as well as toys, books and many other learning tools, it was a wonderful place to behold. As a result of the meeting and an initial evaluation by the staff, we were lucky enough for Abby to become a student. The school with its incredible staff, led by Director Jan Stailey, was incredible. Abby went from simple sign language to being able to communicate like any other child. She learned to talk and talk a lot. She learned to recognize letters, words, and numbers. She learned sentences. It was amazing. Additionally, the staff included a physical therapist and music therapist who were absolutely fantastic. With the staff’s assistance Abby’s motor skills were increased to levels of any other child as well as the establishment of a love for music which she still enjoys to this day. But beyond the success of establishing a tremendous foundation for Abby’s learning well into the future, our family became part of the Rise School. Our oldest son, Abby’s younger brother Jared, would also attend the school for several years with his sister as a model student. His experience cannot be underscored, as he also learned well beyond anything he could have obtained at another school. In addition to learning how to read and write, he was exposed to children with disabilities and learned a compassion for others that has served him well as he enters the 7th grade this year. He is an incredible young man who cares and has an enriched understanding because of his exposure to others with differences. The school not only established a firm educational foundation for Abby and Jared, but a foundation for life for our whole family. Essentially, we fell in love with the Rise School of Houston, Jan Stailey, and the school’s incredible staff. Today Abby is entering the 8th grade. She has many friends throughout her school. She intermixes with the general student body throughout the day and works one period in the administrative office assisting in the delivery of notes throughout the school. She works periodically in the library helping the librarian with assorted tasks and also assists one of the coaches with volleyball. She competes in Special Olympics year round in various sports, including basketball and swimming. She is proficient in the use of a computer, loves music and dance, and continues to surprise us daily. The Rise School of Houston established the foundation by which Abby and Jared continue to build upon to this day, a foundation in learning, caring, and love. We are proud and privileged to have become part of The Rise School family.
Written by his mom Leigh Anne Betty:
Two weeks after we received the news that our unborn son, Sam, would have Down
syndrome, we were told about The Rise School of Houston. We made an appointment for the following week and had our first meeting with Jan Stailey, its director. Jan was not only interested in showing us the school but in hearing our story, answering our questions, connecting us with other parents, and in helping us devise a therapy plan for the interim months until Sam would be attending the school. When we toured the classrooms, we were so excited to see the children and what they were doing and learning. We knew immediately that The Rise School was the place for our child. We asked that day to be put on the waiting list. As we left, we were no longer wondering if we could manage having a child with Down syndrome, but were on the path of how we were going to do it. Sam started attending The Rise School one day after he was nine months old. He was happy to be there from day one. The days were filled with circle time, integrated therapy, singing, playing with toys, stories, new foods, new friends, exploring new environments, and painting with fingers, feet and bodies. As he progressed through his six years at The Rise School, he learned to talk, to walk, to love music and dancing, to form lasting friendships, to recite and recognize the alphabet, to act appropriately in a classroom setting, to begin writing, and, lastly, to read.
When Sam was three and again when he was six, Sam was tested by the school district and qualified as a “speech only” student. He did not qualify to receive special education services other than speech because his IQ tested within the normal range. He graduated The Rise School and began Kindergarten in a fully inclusive environment. He is now eight and in second grade at St. Ambrose Catholic School. His work is modified by his teachers, but he is still fully included, still a “speech only” kid. He reads, he writes, he adds, counts money, tells time, and recently learned about the life cycle of amphibians. He will also receive his First Communion with his class and sings in the “Angels Choir” at Mass. Outside of school, he dances ballet, has play dates with friends, and swims like a fish every day. He is flourishing.
Sam’s success is the success of The Rise School. We feel that the intensive, foundational work done at the Rise School of Houston placed him on the path that he is now blazing. The teachers and staff at the school exceeded every expectation we had of them and because of their work and support, our son, Sam, excels.
Written by her mom, Alicia Dague:
Families in the Houston area are extremely blessed to have The Rise School of Houston. The Rise School enables children with Down syndrome to get an extra jump start to their educational careers due to the low student to teacher ratio each child is able to receive individualized attention. The final class at the Rise School is essentially a Kindergarten classroom. This class provides the children with tools needed to enter the public classroom environment. Not only does The Rise School prepare children educationally, it prepares them socially as well and they work to make sure each child is ready for Kindergarten down to the smallest details such as carrying a lunchroom tray and opening those tricky bathroom stall doors without assistance. They work to help each child be as independent as possible.
Anna attends Sienna Crossing Elementary School in Missouri City. It was a rocky start due to the fact that she was going from a school of 60 to 500 with lots of cool rooms and people that she needed to check out. Once the teacher and staff got to know her and they learned how to work together she has done quite well and was even selected as “Scientist of the Month” for the school in January 2012 and “Gator of the Month” for her class in the month of February 2012. Anna has made LOTS of great friends who look forward to seeing her each and every day and helping her with whatever she might need.
Written by his parents, Dia and Johnathan Sage:
We first learned of The Rise School of Houston shortly after the birth of our son, Ben, who had been diagnosed with Down syndrome. After touring the school, we liked what we saw and decided to get on the waiting list with high hopes. We received a call that Ben had gotten in and eagerly accepted. It was a happy moment, but we had no idea of the impact that this decision would make on the course of our futures. I can honestly say that I don’t know where we’d be today if it hadn’t been for this amazing school.
Ben started at the age of 18 months and continued schooling until he proudly graduated at seven! I remember his first day and how difficult it was to leave my baby, but I soon realized it was the best place for him to be. Not only was he surrounded by people who loved him unconditionally, but encouraged by a staff who was trained with the most updated techniques in early interventions for children with learning disabilities. Ben was surrounded by his peer group made up of other children with and without learning disabilities, which further drove him to reach his milestones. Here is a place where each child is given an opportunity to grow and strive for personal success.
In my experience as a mother of a child with mental and physical disabilities, I know the hardships and the daily struggles that he faces every day. I know too well the struggles of the heart being his mother and am ever thankful that we had the added advantages of being a part of this program where we met with other parents who faced similar issues. We were given a gift that we carry with us each and every day to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and giving kids like Ben, the opportunity to really be a part of this world.
I also want to mention that our daughter Dillon (four years younger than Ben), who is a typically developing child, also attended this amazing school. She spent four extremely happy years growing up with her friends at Rise. I always enjoyed listening about her day and about all the fun things she learned. I also enjoyed stories of her enthusiasm for learning and her ability to motivate and encourage her peers!
One of the happiest yet saddest of days was when Ben graduated from Rise. We were so proud of him and all that he had accomplished during these six years and the time had come for him to start elementary school. As with any parent, you cannot help but feel some fear and trepidation with your child moving on and growing up. But in my heart I knew that Ben was going to be okay because he had been given the tools for success during these crucial years of early development. He recently completed his first year at our public elementary school where he continues to work toward his academic and life skills goals. He has done well and has enjoyed making new friends at school. We are so proud of Ben and are ever thankful of the wonderful opportunities that we had with him at The Rise School.
Written by his mom Jan Ross:
My son, Zakee has Down Syndrome and attended The Rise School of Houston for pre-school for six wonderful years. The years he spent at Rise were critical in preparing him for a full inclusion elementary school educational experience. There are many reasons why I believe Rise is so successful, but some of the most important to us are shared goals, student diversity, customized program, the Rise staff, an integrated therapy model, and the Rise culture. Our goal for Zakee is to participate as fully and independently in the community as he is able. If we don’t prepare him with high standards and expectations, no one else will. As an adult, he will have few or no opportunities if he does not acquire an education. Rise also believes in providing educational opportunities to children with disabilities so they can go on to a full inclusion educational environment, which is the first stepping stone on that path of independence.
Rise’s educational program is not one size fits all. With small class sizes, high teacher to student ratio and knowledgeable staff, Rise was able to customize educational methods and processes to enhance Zakee’s strengths and support his weaknesses. Rise’s schedule of testing and evaluations kept us informed of his progress in a positive way and gave us a roadmap for future areas of focus.
Rise’s model of mixed classrooms of children with disabilities and those without provided models for Zakee. It gave him the opportunity to interact on a daily basis with a wider spectrum of the population, more in keeping with the population Zakee will encounter in the broader community. The ability to develop relationships and manage exchanges with others is a key skill Zakee needed when he transitioned to a typical elementary school classroom.
The Rise staff is caring, energetic and knowledgeable. They clearly understand that they are working to maximize the potential of each child and meet the goal of preparing every child for elementary school. Everyone on the Rise staff steps-up as a full participant in the team dedicated to helping each child achieve their full potential. An example of just one Rise teacher’s efforts was in Zakee’s last year at Rise, his teacher created custom “books” with Zakee’s favorite superheroes to encourage reading and counting.
Along with formal typical educational pre-school skills, Zakee was taught skills important in daily classroom interaction. He learned skills needed to operate independently in a classroom setting such as standing in line quietly, listening and obeying teacher directions, carrying a tray with food items, using a cubby to store personal items, etc. At Zakee’s first school experience outside of Rise, his kindergarten teacher noted many times that Zakee followed classroom rules and understood the flow of the classroom much better than most of his peers and that these skills were just as important as the formal educational skills.
Many children at Rise have various issues that inhibit their ability to fully participate in a classroom setting. Rise’s integrated model of therapy programs addresses these issues as part of the classroom activities. While we secured private occupational therapy for Zakee, one hour a week was insufficient to address his needs. The therapists at Rise provided activities and direction so that fine motor skills were included in daily classroom activities. This coordinated approach helped Zakee substantially with his fine motor skills, especially those needed in the classroom such as handwriting, scissor cutting, and buttoning activities (bathroom independence). Although Zakee is still not as facile as his “typical” classmates in elementary school, he is able to participate in these typical classroom activities.
The culture at Rise is happy and high-energy with a powerful can-do attitude. The environment promotes learning and the actions of all of the employees display their dedication to the children. This is a place where everyone is focused on making things happen, so they do.
We value our son’s time at Rise as instrumental in his future success. Rise started Zakee on the path to help him achieve whatever goals he sets his mind to. Zakee left Rise prepared for kindergarten.