Two schools separated by nearly 2,000 miles approach each school day in a similar way.
“This is a place where kids are loved and feel safe,” said Christine Coppedge, Principal at Williams Elementary School in Pasadena, Texas. “We’re here to make a difference.”
“We put students at the forefront,” said Hilary Downs, Director of Learning at Aspen Valley Prep in Fresno, California. “Our students are safe, they’re known, and they thrive when they’re here.”
That school-wide dedication to meeting their students’ needs has led to Aspen Valley Prep and Williams Elementary being the recipients of the Rise Award, a national honor given out by Gradient Learning that recognizes schools’ commitment to improving the quality of teaching and learning.
The Rise Award highlights partners of the Summit Learning program, an offering of Gradient Learning. In December 2020, inaugural Rise Awards were given to Prairie Heights Middle School in Evans, Colorado, and Carter Lomax Middle School in Pasadena, Texas.
Dr. Karen Hickman, a Deputy Superintendent for Pasadena Independent School District, is a firm believer in creating a culture within her district’s schools that prepares students to succeed in all aspects of their lives. Hickman said having two PISD schools among the first four Rise Award honorees validates her district’s commitment to providing a learning environment that helps all students reach their full potential.
“This is what learning should look like,” said Hickman, who has worked in education for 37 years. “There’s a hunger for the kids to be involved and get them excited about learning, and having the teachers really work on those relationships. Because if you have a good relationship with a kid, you can get amazing things out of them.
“This is what makes my heart realize, ‘We are doing the right work.’ This is what will allow opportunities for students that they would never have had otherwise.”
Both Williams Elementary and Aspen Valley Prep place an emphasis on building students’ confidence through regular one-on-one mentoring sessions and empowering them through engaging projects that connect the classroom to the real world.
Aspen Valley Prep, a K-6 school in the Central Valley area of California, has made significant gains in English Language Arts and math since partnering with Summit Learning for the 2016-17 school year. Krista Purnell, a Director of Implementation Success for Gradient Learning who has worked closely with Aspen Valley Prep, said the continual growth the school has made academically is because of the care and concern shown daily for students.
“It really has been a treat for me as an educator to work with such an amazing community at Aspen Valley and see the things I want for all kids across the country to have,” Purnell said. “It’s a caring environment, but they also get to have fun and learn at a rigorous level. The kids at Aspen know that anything is possible for them because of the adults in that community who believe in them so deeply.”
Williams Elementary, a K-4 school located about 15 miles southeast of Houston, has seen positive academic and non-academic outcomes since partnering with Summit Learning in 2018. Coppedge, who joined the school as principal in 2018, is especially proud of the 2021-22 class of fourth-graders who “didn’t skip a beat” amid the disruptions caused by the pandemic over the past couple of years.
“We celebrate growth here because it’s not all about getting students to a certain end point, it’s about celebrating the growth that they’ve made,” Coppedge said. “This is a recognition for the collaboration that had to happen from all involved and is a testament to all of their hard work.”
Aspen Valley Prep Site Director Nicole Rivera, who is a former student at the school she now leads, echoed Coppedge’s sentiments when reflecting on what the Rise Award means to her community.
“This happens by having high quality curriculum and high quality teachers,” Rivera said. “This award solidifies all of the hard work our team and students have shown this school year.”