Closing Opportunity Gaps Through Student Empowerment

Photo: A student at East End Community School does a math activity.

At East End Community School (EECS), we begin our day by welcoming students and staff in 23 different languages, including American Sign Language. One of the most diverse schools in the state of Maine, EECS is the elementary partner program of the Maine Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and a majority of students and families are multilingual.

In addition to our cultural diversity, our staff, families, and community partners are another asset. We have embraced Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships, and we start each school day by focusing on relationships through our Rise and Shine program. It provides deeply engaging, student-selected activities that are relevant and led by community members and staff. The groups are generally small and provide students with the opportunity to dive into a passion or learn a new, challenging skill.

Implementing Rise and Shine at East End

This ACLU of Maine report summed up the program’s purpose best: “The concept seems simple enough—let students choose what they want to do at the very beginning of the school day, and they’ll be more successful throughout the day. Rise and Shine allows the school to swing away from a deficit model and what students need help with at the very start of the day and instead focuses on the idea of success for each student.”

Ten years ago, East End was identified as one of the five lowest ranked schools in the state and went into the School Improvement Grant (SIG) process. That's when staff started to annually attend ICLE's annual Model Schools Conference (MSC) and to utilize the evidence-based strategies discussed at the conference to improve student outcomes. Rise and Shine was a concept that we initially encountered at MSC.

Improving student attendance, behavior, and achievement was the goal. Rise and Shine provided student voice and choice, incentivized students to arrive at school on time, and helped them have a positive start to their school day.

Before the pandemic, Rise and Shine offered students upwards of 80 morning activity choices every week, including finger-knitting, drumming, violin, STEM, yoga, ukulele, poetry, gardening, and many more. The activities were built into the beginning of each school day so that third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students could all participate in some way. Student voice and choice were a key component of the program. Students participated in a different activity each day of the week for a total of 12 weeks before choosing new activities. Given COVID guidelines, we currently offer Rise and Shine virtually on Wednesdays.

Students on the playground at East End. The introduction of the Rise and Shine program has proven to start their day off on the right foot.

These activities don’t run themselves, and that's where our staff and community partners come in. Over the years, Rise and Shine has helped to build relationships with dozens of caring adults through our community partners, which include but are not limited to Chess Masters, YES! Basketball, 317 Main, Sail Maine, St. Lawrence Arts Center, Cultivating Communities, and many more.

Boosting Engagement by Building Relationships

The recipe for Rise and Shine is simple: Choice + Relationships + Engagement = Success!

Our partnerships provide a rich and diverse way for students to begin their day. Our belief is that engagement and relationship-building help students foster a mindset of success. Students engage with a caring and charismatic adult to get their minds working and bodies moving.

No matter what happens during their school day, we can go up to a student and ask them about Rise and Shine, and they will share a smile or success story. They seem proud of trying a new activity or teaching a peer a new skill.

We love when East End alum come back and share their success stories, whether it be a middle schooler who has joined the Math Team, a high schooler who discovered their love of writing during Power Pens, or an athlete or musician who has continued to develop their new skills. Many of these stories started thanks to Rise and Shine, where students discovered their hidden passion or lifelong interest.

In 2017, ACLU recognized East End’s Rise and Shine program for closing opportunity gaps among students. In its report titled "We Belong Here: Eliminating Inequity in Education for Immigrants and Students of Color in Maine," Rise and Shine is listed as an example of how “student empowerment in general can serve to improve equity, and of how a school identified a structural obstacle to student success and worked not only to remove that obstacle but to transform it into an asset.”

Rise and Shine has improved attendance, built relationships, and improved the overall culture of our school community.


Join East End Community School, a 2021 Model School, at the annual Model Schools Conference, a hybrid learning event in June 2021 featuring four days of keynotes, informative sessions, networking idea labs, and more!

Be the first to read the latest from Shaped.