At Prairie Heights Middle School in Colorado, a Rise Award banner adorns a brick wall at the main entrance and a Rise Award trophy is prominently displayed inside.
Nearly three years after receiving them, Principal Stephanie Knox said it still provides her a daily dose of pride and perspective when she walks by them.
“The award let us know that everything we hoped for was coming true because of our hard work and teamwork,” Knox said. “The award also made us refocus and ask each other, ‘How do we continue to get better from here?’ We have to continue to push ourselves.”
The Rise Award is a national honor given out by Gradient Learning that recognizes schools’ commitment to constantly improve the quality of teaching and learning at their school.
In 2020, Prairie Heights Middle School and Carter Lomax Middle School in Texas were the inaugural recipients of the Rise Award. Last year, Aspen Valley Prep in California and Williams Elementary School in Texas received the award.
Six more schools are joining the prestigious Rise Award honoree list this year. Each school is a partner of the Summit Learning program, an offering of Gradient Learning, and has built the systems, structures, and culture that prepares students to succeed in life beyond the classroom.
2023 Rise Award recipients
Classical Academy Middle School
Connection is a word that aptly describes Classical Academy Middle School’s approach to learning.
The public, independent study charter school near San Diego uses teacher-student connections to enrich its seventh- and eighth-grade classroom environments with inclusion, respect, and collaboration.
“We prioritize creating a school culture that promotes school connectedness and encourages positive relationships between teachers and students,” Principal Jennifer Morrow said. “Teachers should be passionate about doing great things for kids.”
Morrow wants to ensure that each student in her school feels a connection to the world around them because of how their teachers support all aspects of their life.
The school also presents opportunities for students to work on their independence and confidence because of its unique weekly structure. Students are in the school’s building Tuesday-Thursday and work independently with their parent educator at home on Monday and Friday.
“Academic success is just one part of a student’s overall well-being,” Morrow said. “Students’ emotional, physical, social, and cognitive development are all interconnected.”
Mazzuchelli Catholic Middle School
Daniel Thole, who took over as principal of Mazzuchelli Catholic Middle School at the start of the school year, can’t wait to start preparing for his second year as the leader of a school located about 30 miles from where he grew up in Dyersville.
But first, he wants his staff to celebrate and understand what it means to receive the Rise Award.
“So often in our profession, we are so focused on improving what we are doing that we fail to recognize the great things going on because of our efforts,” Thole said. “This gives us a moment to appreciate all we have accomplished on this journey and springboards us into the future with great momentum.”
Mazzuchelli Catholic Middle School’s mission is for all of their sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students to grow spiritually, emotionally, physically, and academically.
“We must give great attention to all of these if we are to do our jobs in preparing students for their future,” Thole said.
Nelda Sullivan Middle School
Educators at Nelda Sullivan Middle School don’t simply want their fifth- and sixth-grade students to achieve success in their classroom. They want their students’ two years of learning at Nelda Sullivan to translate to life successes many years later.
“They leave with the confidence and skills required for college and career readiness,” Principal Kelly Cook-Costley said.
Cook-Costley said the school’s mentoring program “plays a crucial part” in helping students’ develop skills and set goals, both short and long term.
“Teachers and students are able to relate to each other as individuals and are invested in each other’s success,” said Cook-Costley, adding that the weekly one-on-one time with teachers and students establishes positive relationships that are built on mutual understanding and empathy.
San Jacinto Intermediate School
Throughout this past school year, each class period at San Jacinto Intermediate School began and ended with a “Start and Finish Strong” activity.
The seventh- and eighth-graders would regularly engage in small activities twice in each class period that helped them form connections in various ways. Principal Diane Phelan quickly realized that this daily routine helped her students feel more comfortable in the classroom and that translated to a stronger learning environment overall.
“Creating a sense of belonging for all of our students is a priority,” Phelan said. “Students must feel safe—physically and emotionally—and be connected to each other, the campus, and the adults on campus.”
San Jacinto Intermediate School, which is joined by Nelda Sullivan Middle School in the Pasadena Independent School District, takes pride in living up to its mission statement of “Shaping Lives and Launching Futures.”
“It is our belief that teaching the whole student is who we are at San Jacinto,” Phelan said. “No matter where the student goes next, they will have some skills to take with them.”
The Enrichment Cooperative at Bryant
When Principal Suzanne Smith speaks about having a strong partnership with the families and caregivers of her students, it’s more than lip service.
The Enrichment Cooperative (TEC) at Bryant is a K-12 school in the Northwest that was designed as Spokane Public Schools’ parent partnership program.
“All our students and families have a mentor/consultant that works directly with them to support their child’s learning throughout the school year,” Smith said. “This model enables Bryant to build learning plans and experiences that fit the unique needs of each individual student.”
Smith said one of the most notable benefits of the partnership with families is the trust they all have in her school’s staff. In turn, that allows TEC at Bryant to best help each of their students reach their full potential.
“With this established trust, our teachers can push our students further in their academic gains and offer the extended support they need,” Smith said. “Our students know their teachers genuinely care about their academic and personal success and are willing to work with them to meet their goals.”
Wahlert Catholic High School
Principal Mariah Reeves views the Rise Award as a source of affirmation that Wahlert Catholic High School is on the right track in its quest for impactful whole-student learning.
“We are very passionate about the ‘whole student’ and we take this concept very seriously,” Reeves said. “(The award) is a testament to the teachers’ diligence in continuing to sharpen our practices to say with confidence that all students we serve are prepared for life beyond high school.”
Wahlert Catholic and fellow Rise Award honoree Mazzuchelli Catholic Middle School are both a part of Holy Family Catholic Schools in Dubuque and share a collective vision for how to educate their students.
“When we say we are a community, we mean it,” Reeves said. “There is a hunger among the faculty to evolve and meet the needs of today’s learners.”
Reeves credits the one-on-one interactions in the school’s mentoring program with creating a strong culture of connection throughout the building.
“Teachers walk alongside our students, not in front of or behind,” Reeves said. “We seek to ensure the whole person is nourished and appropriately challenged, and we stop at nothing to make that a reality.”