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Rising and shining with this after school program

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A banner hangs in the hallway at Bethel A Baptist church with the message: “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” It is 3:45 p.m. on a spring weekday, and students are just about finished with the snacks they grabbed upon arriving off the Transylvania County Schools bus.

Meals right off the bus at Rise and Shine. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Decompressing from a long day while fueling up at the same time, these students — or rather scholars — are about to start some homework with a little community help.

“We call the students scholars because we want them to be scholars educationally as well as scholars in life,” said Laura Leatherwood, reading specialist at Rise and Shine.

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader” at Bethel A Baptist Church. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Rise and Shine is located in Brevard and offers year-round programming with after school care, a summer camp, internships, and leadership training. Its flagship focus is one-on-one after school tutoring offered four days a week during the school year.

The idea of Rise and Shine was born from community conversations after rising racial tensions and “a dark chapter in local history,” according to the organization’s website. Members from local churches came together to ask themselves, what was it that they could do help? Learn more about the full story here.

Rise and Shine: Making a Difference Now and Forever, courtesy of Rise and Shine

With continued meetings, the answer that came to the forefront was all about supporting children. Rise and Shine officially began in the fall of 1996 with a $3,000 grant from United Way and has been thriving since.

“You got to make them feel good before they can do good,” said William Mills, executive director at Rise and Shine. He grew up in Brevard and took over the head role after retiring from the military in 2017.

The hallways and rooms at Bethel A Baptist are reminiscent of school — decorated in bright colors, with encouraging messages and handmade art.

During the school year, a typical weekday at Rise and Shine starts when scholars are dropped off by school district buses around 3:15 p.m. The program is available for first to 12th graders and is completely free.

After scholars have some time to eat and settle in, the 40-minute rotations begin. First to sixth graders have one-on-one tutoring. Each week, Rise and Shine has seven one-on-one tutors that come each day to the program. The next week, a different group of volunteers rotates through. Consistency is a key factor, so Rise and Shine strives to keep scholars with the same tutors throughout the program.

“The tutors, in the time and commitment that they give is incredible.”

Laura Leatherwood, reading specialist at Rise and Shine
Tutor and scholar at Rise and Shine. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Once the tutoring is complete, Leatherwood steps in for those who were in need of extra attention.

The middle and high schoolers don’t have tutors, but are together working on homework or other educational activities. They have a volunteer with them as well to help guide them.

The next rotation takes scholars to enrichment activities, which range in subject matter from STEM to social studies to art or time outside. In addition to those activities, scholars have a guided reading time twice a week. There are two additional volunteers who come in, and like a book club, they read together, Leatherwood said.

Earth art project at Rise and Shine in Brevard, NC. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Leatherwood mentioned that all of the Rise and Shine scholars have gone on to higher education after high school graduation.

“We want to instill in them that you matter, we believe in you, and dream big,” she said. “You can do whatever it is that you want to do.”

Rise and Shine has seven paid staff members and about 50 volunteer tutors that rotate through. Transylvania County attracts many retirees, and this gives those people who may not live near family anymore an opportunity to connect.

“The tutors will say, you know, these are my adopted grandchildren,” Leatherwood said.

Once school finishes, Rise and Shine has a six-week summer program. It is open registration but the kids who participate during the school year are shown preference if they want to participate. This year, with a $500,000 grant from the Dogwood Health Trust, Rise and Shine is able to open another location at a Glade Creek Baptist Church in Pisgah Forest.

The mornings of the summer camp feature literature-based activities, using the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program. The afternoon is all about enrichment and field trips. The summer camps are there to continue to support their scholars, prevent summer slide, and provide some fun.

“I feel like we’re making a difference in their lives. And, you know, you can’t fix everything in their lives, but for these two and a half hours that we have them — they know they’re loved. They’re getting something accomplished, and it’s good.”

Laura Leatherwood, reading specialist at Rise and Shine

Editor’s Note: EdNC receives support from the Dogwood Health Trust.

Caroline Parker

Caroline Parker is the director of rural storytelling and strategy for EducationNC. She covers the stories of rural North Carolina, the arts, STEM education and nutrition.