The following article is from the Dec. 2018 issue of the Maine Educator, it was submitted to the Maine DOE by Dan Nogar, Dean of Students at East End Community School.
At East End Community School in Portland, 75-80% of the students receive free or reduced lunch, student mobility is about 50%—there are almost 150 new students that leave at the end of the year, with that same amount of new kids coming in the following school year. In the middle of November, seven new students started their first days. The challenges in building relationships and getting students to continue to come to school are great. The solutions though for this diverse school are built into the way it educates—the learning model at East End is based on relationships that start at the very beginning of the school day.
“I like starting my day with jump rope, soccer drills, and basketball. It starts my day in a good way. It also gives me energy,” Ali wrote about his experience with the school’s Rise and Shine program.
Rise and Shine offers students as many as 85 choices, from finger knitting to sock monkeys to basketball to STEM and poetry, students choose how to start their day. The schedule is built into the beginning of each school day, so every student gets to participate in some way. Students make their own choices for their activities and then participate in a different one each day of the week for a total of 12 weeks, then new activities are chosen.
The concept seems simple enough—let students choose what they want to do at the very beginning of the school day and they’ll be more successful throughout the day. For Dean of Students and Rise and Shine Coordinator, Dan Nogar, the program allows the school to swing away from a deficit model and what students need help with at the very start of the day and instead focuses on the idea of success for each student.
“No matter what happens in their school day, I can go up to them and ask them about Rise and Shine and we find success. Rise and Shine was never intended to be about intervention, but the days that there is basketball or piano or kickball—the students get here because those are their choices and they don’t want to miss it. We had some of the best attendance in the district last year,” said Nogar.
The program, in its 8th year, has become so successful it was even recognized by the ACLU as something that is closing opportunity gaps among students, saying in its October 2017 report, We Belong Here: Eliminating Inequity in Education for Immigrants and Students of Color in Maine, that Rise and Shine is an example of how “student empowerment in general can serve to improve equity, and of how a school identified a structural obstacle to student success and worked not only to remove that obstacle but to transform it into an asset.”
Nogar admits the success wasn’t instant. There were bumps and the growth now in offerings is due to the continued outreach to the community. Many of the activities offered are led by local community groups or businesses who volunteer their time to share their talents with the students. “I was at the local farmer’s market and I saw a woman making balloon animals, and I thought what a great Rise and Shine that would make. There is so much hand-eye coordination and thinking ahead required with making balloon animals, and the kids don’t even know they’re learning,” said Nogar.
While there are offerings led by those outside in the community, the majority of programs are offered by the educators in the building who all share their talents, and for those who don’t lead a session, they’re helping with one or they’re spending time with a student one-on-one to help build relationships.
“Kids like coming to school,” added Nogar. And that’s a statement hard to beat.