Student-run enterprise SunRISE Creations empowers future learners
T-shirts, crafts, notebooks, and earrings.
When you walk through the doors of the SunRISE Creations classroom, these are just a few of the sale items seen being selected, designed, manufactured, and delivered by the adult transitional students enrolled in Northwest ISD’s RISE program.
“I like delivering the shirts to all the different schools and to see the teachers excited for their delivery,” said Jaheim, a third-year student in the program. “It makes me feel good!”
The RISE Program (Reaching Independence through Supported Education) is a school-based transition service offered by Northwest Independent School District and is located at the Steele Accelerated High School campus in Roanoke, Texas. It is an instructional arrangement for adult students — ages 18 through 21 — who have completed the academic graduation requirements and are working within the continuum of transition services in order to complete implementation of their individual interests, strengths, and choices.
“Our values consistently align with our main goal,” said RISE teacher Mrs. Elyse Pennington. “We strive for all students to have a seamless transition from the RISE program to independent living to include paid employment for those capable, be connected to their communities, and have a plan for the future without public education.”
More than 10 years ago, and with a need to foster independence to the fullest extent possible, the SunRISE Creations program was designed as a break-off learning option from RISE to offer specialized business and industry experiences to students that may present with Autism or similar challenges, including anxiety, social skills, self-awareness, and executive functioning. While working in the SunRISE Creations classroom, students are led by professional faculty members, walking students through variety of business and entrepreneurship practices.
“This program allows us to grow upon our underlying principles to foster independence to the fullest extent possible, to promote self-advocacy, to prepare our students for transition into the adult world, and to obtain competitive employment and employment opportunities,” Mrs. Pennington said.
Each school year, the adult students in RISE elect board officers and conduct regular business meetings. The elected officers decide upon what business items to create for sale for SunRISE Creations, determine pricing and budget, and review revenue and expenditures under faculty supervision each month. Minutes are recorded at each meeting and are shared with the campus staff, special education department, and finance department.
“This program, it helps me understand perfect job opportunities, proper dress codes, and the etiquettes of different jobs and how to do different jobs,” said Nathaniel, a first-year RISE student who often helps make and sell creations in the SunRISE classroom.
SunRISE Creations student performance is monitored closely by maintaining effective communication with program teachers, specialists, and families. Individualized supports for a successful transition to adult life are provided in the areas of employment, independent living, and recreational activities. Each young adult's daily schedule is based upon his or her post-secondary goals.
“We wanted to create a program that would provide delivery of employment-related transition services to include activities that take place in the classroom, home, neighborhood, and community,” said Mrs. Pennington. “And once our district and community caught on, it’s been a successful endeavor ever since!”
For the SunRISE program, COVID-19 presented the largest obstacle for facilitators to overcome. With many businesses shutting down, directors and teachers quickly found themselves with limited options available for their students to get out into the community to work on their vocational training skills. The SunRISE team strategized ways to simulate the work environment and bring it to life within the classroom. SunRISE has always been a part of the RISE program, but now it needed to be the main backbone to build and maintain students’ skills.
“We developed a more active presence on social media, which also enabled us to build a better connection with our local communities and receive more orders,” said Pennington. “Prior to the fall of 2020, our Facebook page had less than 500 followers, and today we are just shy of 1500 followers!”
To help build their presence and to further build interactions within the community, SunRISE starting hosting live sales and most recently posted a poll for community input on their next endeavor that received 222 likes, 159 comments and 1,800 engagements. The success of the program’s $10 Tuesday’s campaign receives more online orders than any other campaign offered. Teachers, department heads, and community members alike reach out daily for t-shirt design assistance, earring orders, or any additional requests they feel SunRISE students will be able to tackle.
“Our largest hurdle and obstacle has quickly become one of our most recent successes,” said Pennington. “The best part is hands down to see our students become active participants within the community they live in and to give back. We are now able to reach beyond our four walls of our school community and now help our students be fully immersed into our local community as a whole.”
With recent expansion of product offerings and significant program success, SunRISE Creations will move to a new location this December. Their larger space — located in the district’s newly remodeled Special Programs Center in Haslet, Texas – will feature a store front that will allow community access to experience SunRISE items in person and to work with students to further develop their customer service skills.
“Our largest success is always when a student obtains paid employment and graduates from RISE with a solid plan for their future. That is our program’s greatest accomplishment.”