Rising Stars program expands to include four schools

By Catharin Shepard • Editor • What started a few years ago as a grassroots effort to help prepare young children for kindergarten will expand into four elementary schools in Hoke County this summer.

Rising Stars is a local effort launched by Citizens for Early Childhood Education, a group of people concerned with seeing Hoke County children achieve their potential.

Rising Stars offers a free summer learning program that introduces five-year-olds to what it’s like to attend school for the first time, preparing them to start their education off on the right foot.

Rising Stars is not a summer play camp: it’s taught by Hoke County teachers, and students are expected to work and learn, program supervisor Dr. Patricia Lyons said.

“It’s proactive to get kids acclimated to school before school starts,” she said. “I can remember as a teacher and a principal, that first day, you have kids coming in who are anxious. Some are ready to go, others, there’s separation anxiety. They’ve had the TV babysitting them for the last four or five years, and it’s just a culture shock for them. This program puts them into a strong academic program, intensive – we’re talking math and science and reading, for three whole weeks, all day long.

“When school starts, they’re ready to go. Teachers love it,” Lyons said.

The Citizens for Early Childhood Education’s mission is “to provide the opportunity for young children to develop their God-given talents and abilities in order to fully achieve their potential, by preparing birth to five-year-old children for kindergarten, informing their parents and care providers of the benefits of Pre-K and assisting Pre-K providers in offering services to all children.”

As part of that mission, Rising Stars works to help prepare children “to perform behaviorally, socially, and academically on par with their cohorts,” according to the program materials. Besides academics like phonics, reading, math and science, children also learn social skills. Kids receive breakfast and lunch during the session.

Additionally, often the same teachers working with kids during the summer have ended up having those children in their classrooms when school starts. That’s a benefit, too, Lyons said.

“They know the teacher, they know the routine,” she said.

The first summer class was held two years ago at Scurlock Elementary. Last year, Rising Stars added a class at Upchurch Elementary. This year it will be back at Scurlock and Upchurch and will also hold classes at McLauchlin Elementary and West Hoke Elementary.

Rising Stars is invitation-only in order to reach students who would benefit the most from what it has to offer. Program leaders identify potential participants through Hoke County Schools kindergarten registration.

Rising Stars can enroll about 15-18 students per class, per school, with the potential for up to two classes at each school if needed. However, the program didn’t have as many students participate last year as organizers hoped, Lyons said.

That’s part of why Citizens for Early Childhood Education hopes to get the message out that parents should get started now on registering their children for kindergarten this fall.

“We’re mounting a campaign. If you have a five-year-old or your kid’s going to be five, register them now,” Lyons said.

Hoke County Schools kindergarten registration is open now.

There is some data from screening diagnostics taken before and after children participated in the program to show whether Rising Stars is effective in helping children. Lyons and Scurlock assistant principal Amanda Briggs, who also serves as Rising Stars site supervisor, presented the information to the Hoke County Board of Education last fall.

The screening diagnostics showed children who participated in Rising Stars improved in areas such as being able to write their name, color recognition, identifying shapes, letter sounds, numbers and other early childhood education building blocks.

At Scurlock Elementary, children improved on a kindergarten screening from a pre-test average of 68 percent, to a post-test average of 86 percent. Children attending Rising Stars at Upchurch Elementary improved on the kindergarten screening from a pre-test average of 40 percent, to a post-test average of 73 percent. Participating children also showed improvement in screenings for social skills and self-discipline.

Eventually the organization would like to host a Rising Stars program on every campus that has a need for early kindergarten intervention, those involved with the program have said.

Fletcher and Anne Wright are executive directors for Rising Stars, and provide funding for the program.

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