by Lisa Tome
Rising Sun Elementary School and the 755 students who attend that school are part of the community.
That's what the school's administrators, Cindy Fitzpatrick and Sherri Isaac, told business, organization, and religious leaders recently during a meeting hosted by the Rising Sun Lions Club.
Fitzpatrick said that "Every Child Deserves Every Chance" and outlined issues at the school. There are students living in crisis and trauma situations. "It's going to take the whole community to address the problem," said Fitzpatrick.
The school has the 755 students from preschool to grade five. There are 17 support staff, eight service providers, 10 paraprofessionals, 56 teachers, one school psychologist, and two administrators. The school also has some unique programs such as infants and toddlers, a behavior support class, and a program run by Upper Bay Counseling which brings in students from other schools.
The principal also unveiled a surprising number. Nearly 43 percent of the students enrolled at the school qualify for free and reduced meals. "Poverty and trauma impact the way you learn," she said. The school has an increase in the free meals from 173 five years ago to the current number. There are also 22 students enrolled who qualify for the homeless (no fixed address) designation.
In 2010, the number of Hispanic students at RSES was 23. Now, that number is 36. "A lot come in speaking little to no English," said Fitzpatrick. Enrollment has also grown by 86 students during the last two years.
Isaac explained that more than ever, students are being raised by people who aren't their parents. One or more families are living under the same roof. Some have an "unstable" home environment, and may have witnessed sexual or drug abuse. "They don't get the typical family experience," said Isaac.
Fitzpatrick and Isaac and a partner, Brad Thorne, are also working to bring the Strengthening Families program to Rising Sun. Strengthening Families is a research based program which provides training in parenting skills and family relationship building which is geared to reduce problem behavior and instances of delinquency.
The program includes 14 sessions. During each session, families are served dinner. There are also separate sessions for parents and their children and a family session. Parents learn discipline and problem solving. Children learn social skills, understanding feelings, and more.
In order to host the program, volunteers will be needed to work with group leaders. Financial support or meal donations are needed. Incentives for attending and awards for those who graduate from the program are also needed. The goal is to serve 7-10 families at the start of this program, which will begin next spring.
The administrators stressed that the problems at the school are not just an issue at the school. "It's a Rising Sun community problem," they said. "Every child at that school deserves every single thing we can do for them," said Fitzpatrick. When children come to school with these issues, such as poverty and trauma, it takes a great deal of work to prepare them to learn.
Bill Paré, a community member who was representing both the Lions Club and St. Agnes Church asked questions. "The children appear to be the end product of the unbelievable problems in the county," said Paré.
Fitzpatrick said the problems will be resolved "one little tiny step at a time." "We have faith and vision. It's a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of faith," she added.
Janes United Methodist Church has already signed on to serve as the site for Strengthening Families. The desire is to hold it at a location other than the school building.
Any individual or business who would like to sign on as a volunteer or who would like to help with the school issues may contact Sherri Isaac at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Rising Sun Elementary.