DALLAS’ RISE SCHOOL WILL BE FIRST TO MERGE WITH YMCA
Stepping into the first Rise School at the University of Alabama, Wendy Payne said she prepared for tears to fill her eyes.
The school was founded to offer early childhood education to students both with and without developmental disabilities within the same classroom. Payne had made the trip with her then husband, John Poston, to see if the school’s model would be a good fit for their son, Michael, with Down syndrome.
Turns out it had been exactly what they needed.
“It just worked because they learned from each other and we saw them with their arms around each other and one helping another … We left there thinking ‘we got to start this in Dallas,’” Payne said.
In 1998, The Rise School of Dallas began in the library of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in North Dallas with eight students — including Michael and his twin sister Margot. Eighteen years later, it will finally have a permanent place to call home.
“It just worked because they learned from each other and we saw them with their arms around each other and one helping another.”
About 60 students, ages 6 months to 6 years, will walk through the doors of the Rise School’s space at the newly constructed Moody Family YMCA in the Park Cities next week.
It’s the first time a Rise School has merged with a YMCA — and with it comes a larger space, new technology, and more offerings for students.
YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas has kindergarten readiness programs at its Plano and Park South branches. There has been a long-standing preschool program at the Park Cities YMCA as well, but bringing in the Rise School will signal a unique offering especially in reaching the special needs community.
“This is a huge opportunity for the YMCA, for the Rise School, and the community to continue the important work we are doing on a much higher level,” said Gordon Echtenkamp, president and CEO for YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas.
RISE SCHOOL GETS ITS OWN SPACE, NEW TECHNOLOGY
Each Rise School classroom has one master’s level teacher and two assistant teachers. Classroom instruction follows an inclusive model, teaching students with and without developmental disabilities together. There are also occupational, speech, music, and physical therapists that offer services to students on-site.
A permanent space means having an environment specifically designed for the preschool, Rise School of Dallas Director Maude Pampel said.
There will be a separate entrance where parents can drop off and pick up their children away from the bustle of the fitness areas. Kitchens and bathrooms made for younger children will empower students in learning to do dishes or go to the bathroom on their own.
“Those adaptive skills are really great for our kids to learn,” Pampel said. “The fact that they can do it and have that independence just encourages them to keep doing it.”
Teachers will have new technology at their disposal such as upgraded smart boards, iPads, and a smart table to help students both academically and socially.
“Just being able to work together and find a common thing to play with whether it’s with an iPad or playing basketball in the gym — it’s just great that at an early age these kids are working together towards a common goal and building friendships,” Pampel said.
Payne said learning alongside kids with developmental disabilities helped her daughter, Margot, develop compassion at an early age.
“It’s just great that at an early age these kids are working together towards a common goal and building friendships.”
“She is so loving with people. She doesn’t notice if somebody has something wrong with them,” Payne said.
With a larger space, the Rise School plans to expand its offerings to even younger children beginning at 6 months old this school year.
As part of the YMCA, Rise students will have private access to the gym and playground as well as afterschool activities such as soccer, swimming lessons, or other programming.
Pampel sees this as a way to provide opportunities beyond the classroom — especially for the special needs kids.
“A lot of times our parents are kind of hesitant going into the communities especially when their kids are young just because they aren’t sure how the community might react to them … When you are in a safe space, where you bring your kids every day, you are more willing to step out and try those things and give your kids more of an opportunity,” Pampel said.
At this time, there are no plans to bring the Rise School curriculum to other YMCA branches, but Echtenkamp said he plans for the relationship to be long-term.
“I envision the YMCA Rise School to be part of our programming for years to come and I can’t wait for some of the kids who are with us now, 15-20 years down the road, for them to still be YMCA members,” Echtenkamp said.
Rise School of Dallas
Where: Moody Family YMCA, 6000 Preston Road, in Dallas
Cost: $1,100 per month including full-time school and integrated therapies; financial aid is available to qualifying families
Contact: Call 214-526-7293 or visit the school’s website