At the RISE Network’s Fall Convening, held on November 17 at the Omni Hotel in New Haven, educators in RISE’s core network of schools were encouraged to “Level Up” their practice in a day of learning, sharing, and reconnecting. The event created a forum to spotlight the ongoing improvement work school teams are leading for the benefit of their students and communities. Through network-wide sharing of such efforts, we worked together to assess the success of our efforts and lean into opportunities for future change.
The first session of the day featured five incredible students from RISE high schools. This “Level Up” student panel, led by RISE On-Track Coach Khanisha Denise Moore, gave students the opportunity to share different elements of their high school journeys with educators.
Griffin, a junior from Westhill High School in Stamford, is on pace to graduate a year early and plans to enroll at Johnson & Wales University to pursue a degree in culinary arts. As a freshman, Griffin worked with Khanisha as his On-Track Coach and said the experience was like a “warm hug of support and encouragement.” Arianna, a freshman at Maloney High School in Meriden, aspires to be a doctor. As an incoming 9th grader, she participated in Maloney’s summer bridge program, during which she said the teachers and upperclassmen mentors provided help and connections around the building.
David and Nicholas, both seniors and athletes at Middletown High School, agreed that their counselors and coaches provide a crucial support system. They participated in summer academies as rising seniors, where they worked with counselors on their college essays and applications. They also check in weekly with their coaches about school, sport, and personal goals they have set. “Coaches and counselors push you to be better and give you advice on how to do it,” said Nicholas. “They work with you on goals they know you can achieve.”
Ayanna, an East Hartford High School graduate, and current freshman at Merrimack College, said that the support and encouragement she received from her high school teachers have helped her to be successful. She urged educators not to give up on their students, explaining, “What you say to your students matters and resonates with them. If you make your students feel like they can do things, then they will believe they can.” Following high school, Ayanna took part in the summer melt texting program, which helps graduated seniors by sending them key reminders and individualized support for their postsecondary plans. She said, “[The program] helped me with maturing and time management.”
Feeling energized following the student panel, educators participated in a team challenge and celebrated milestones achieved within their schools. In a session focused on improvement cycles, participants were asked to record change ideas from their schools on sticky notes and to exchange these with educators from other districts. This exercise reinforced one key goal of the convening: facilitating meaningful connections among educators from different districts.
RISE’s Chief of Programs and Network Success, Christina Ellington, explained how she was most proud that so many participants said they had made connections with other schools, which led to new ideas and practices. “As a former educator and administrator, I know it can be easy to get stuck in your silo when you’re in the grind,” said Ellington. “Leveling up means that we push ourselves to listen in to others’ experiences, put aside the impossible, and zoom in on what is possible. I saw and heard in conversations during the convening people doing just that.”
During the afternoon Freshman and Postsecondary Success breakout sessions, educators had the opportunity to strengthen their practices, learn from others, and get inspired through interacting with other districts on similar work. Freshman Success teams reviewed historical second-quarter data to make informed decisions about clear actions to put into place to keep up this year’s first-quarter momentum. Postsecondary Success teams focused on utilizing data to generate targeted interventions to support students in their post-high school plans.
The convening concluded following a team reflections session, where school teams reconnected to share learnings from the breakouts and to establish clear next-level action steps for their schools. “The convening was so impactful because it facilitated connection across the network,” said LaShante James, Assistant Principal at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk. “The ideas that we shared are invaluable and we had the opportunity to problem solve!” After a full day of cross-district collaboration, our attendees left feeling a clear sense of purpose and accomplishment.