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Michiana 2027: Rise Up Academy at the center of a shake up in South Bend Community Schools

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — some people are hoping a shakeup in South Bend Community Schools could give an alternative high school much-needed momentum.

As part of Focus 2018, a reorganization initiative for South Bend Schools, Rise Up Academy will be move to Perley Fine Arts Primary Center’s building.

It’s a move closer to the heart of the city of South Bend and a move potentially closer to more opportunities for students in the program.

Many students say Rise Up Academy could be their last chance.

And some students are just one mistake away from that reality.

“We all go through something and we all need somebody,” said security guard Gregory Brown. “And I know that these kids need us.”

Every now and then you’ll find some students wandering a bit aimlessly in the halls of Rise Up Academy.

So the staff there tends to step up to rein them in.

“We get to know the kid first so the rapport is there,” said teacher Dennis Copeland, “Once you have the rapport, then you can go into the educational side of it.”

Those relationships grow within these halls, especially when you’re working with fewer kids.

“So many of the students come here and they feel like they’re failures,” said teacher Christine Eberhardt. “And they want to quit. They want to give up. They don’t have that stamina to overcome the obstacles and I think one of the advantages of having such a small staff: we don’t give up on them.”

Like other schools in the district, Rise Up’s enrollment took a hit.

It’s down to 168 students from 190 last year.

That also means just over 25 percent of the building is being utilized according to the district’s 2017 capacity study.

Fewer students or not, educators here say they still have a job to do.

“We work with them and bring them back together and restore the relationships so they can continue with their education,” said guidance director Anne Marie Coglianese.

The challenges these teens face are tough.

 “Education just isn’t the problem,” said teacher Celest Phillips. “There are problems at home, there are problems on the streets and they bring all of that with them and we have to learn a way to fill that gap.”

Many of them are at Rise Up after falling behind or being removed at their former high schools.

This school focuses on restorative justice.

Instead of sending students to the principal’s office, the guidance staff intervenes.

“If the problem isn’t solved here it will spread out to the community,” said Coglianese.

At Rise Up, Rosalind Cutts is usually that problem solver.

“I’m not here to judge or evaluate or give any decisions, I’m just here to listen,” she said.

Cutts is the coordinator of the Phoenix Room.

It’s the space students are sent after an incident happens in class.

The teacher fills out a form explaining what happened, and the student reflects on his/her behavior with Cutts.

“And there has been past graduates many success stories,” said Cutts. “When they came here they had a very bad history at other schools and yet through the restorative justice program. They’re able to realize there are other tools besides going off.”

Reaching every student who sits in this room is the goal.

But the reality is, sometimes that just doesn’t happen.

According to the Indiana Board of Education, 22 percent of Rise Up students graduate on time while nearly 35 percent end up dropping out.

But some students say it’s not all about the numbers.

“Some of the teachers actually care about you passing and graduating,” said student I’jaha Thomas. “It’s not just like ‘ok, I’m still going to get paid regardless,’ it’s like, ‘no, I want you to pass.’”

Thomas has been at Rise Up for two years.

“I don’t feel like I’m excluded i feel like we all get the same love and attention,” said another student  Jerimiah Gathright.

As much as they appreciate patience from the administration, sometimes these students also feel left out.

“We don’t get offered CTE programs, we don’t’ get offered sports, we don’t even have a prom,” said Gathright. “So sometimes it doesn’t even feel like school.”

But the program is growing.

“Thank god for Principal Terry Moore because he said what we can get for these kids, we’re going to get,” said Brown. “I had a chance to sit down with some of the students and Superintendent Dr Spells. He came out and asked the kids what they wanted what they needed and they showed the concern and the care.”

Despite not having a varsity team, the head of security here, Gregory Brown, set up an intramural basketball team for the kids and set up games for the student athletes to play against teams outside of the district.

Even if just for fun, an opportunity to shoot their shots is Brown’s way of letting these young men know they have another shot at life.

“At Rise Up Academy we’re going to help you grow up,” he said. “We’re going to help you in the school. And I tell the kids all the time, to play basketball, it’s about the classroom. My motto is your setback is a set up for your comeback.”

That comeback is possible.

“My son is not a lover of school at all so we struggled every morning to get him up and get him out,” said parent Felicia Frison. “I definitely want to thank the school because just like me, every day was a struggle and I’m sure it was a struggle for them as well to keep him motivated and keep him focused.”

Frison son was one of a dozen students who graduated from Rise Up in the winter.

To them, that day proves that their last chance was actually another opportunity for new beginnings.

“I’m just so grateful for my child because she stood up, and rose up and did what she needed to do. I’m just so proud,” said mother parent Shamika Eli.

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