Rise Above: At A Glance
“Rise Above [is] an organization that uses academics as a tool to
bring students into restorative relationships.”
Founder Neil Fernandes
Rise Above, a non-profit, faith-based organization, provides a place for students who have been suspended or expelled from school to continue their school education, while maintaining a focus of supporting them and building healthy relationships.
The vision for Rise Above began in 2013, when Neil and Veronica Fernandes felt a stir on their hearts to step forward in action to serve the community of Jackson where there was a need. At first they thought that might mean helping with a GED (General Educational Development) or ESL (teaching English as a Second Language) program. But it soon became evident that there was a different need in the community of Jackson. They began to recognize the need to address the cycle of hopelessness that exists within kids expelled from school. After lots of prayer, research, and connection-building, Rise Above became their ministry with the aim to reach this population, to equip them with the necessary skills to return to school successfully, and to fully restore the students to their community.
What Does Rise Above Do?
Students who come to Rise Above are put into classrooms with approximately 6-8 other students. Within these classrooms, each student continues the work assigned to them by their original school district through a free, online educational program called “Cross Roads.” Also included in the curriculum are counseling services and daily life skills classes led by staff and various members of the community on a variety of helpful topics.
Rise Above exists to help kids with the education that they would otherwise be left to pursue on their own, outside of school. The objective is always to return students to their original schools prepared to be successful.
However, of much greater importance to the Rise Above founders and staff is the goal to foster healthy relationships with the students who come in, recognizing that most of them are there ultimately because of broken relationships in their lives. The heart of this organization is to bring hope to these kids and see them become healthy, happy, and whole.
“Our Goal is Social” - This primarily means four things:
Relationships come before academics. It is important to address the hurt a student may be going through before forcing them to focus on academic curriculum.
Making introductions and sharing contacts with students is a priority. Neil believes that “The goal for our program is to really ensure that students have access to people that they see as beneficial, those people that allow them opportunity to advance and move forward in their goals and career aspirations.”
Our staff treats every student as an individual. There is no one pattern to helping all students. Because of the small size of our classrooms, Rise Above is able to individualize the program to best benefit the student.
Relationships should endure post-program. The staff at Rise Above places large emphasis on creating healthy relationships with each student, and they do not expect kids to lose all contact once back in their original schools. All a student should have to do to reach back out to a staff member is pick up the phone and call.
The hope of Rise Above is to provide second chances to kids who are marginalized by their community, to meet the academic, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of the students.
Rise Above is a growing organization. Along with their original location, they have opened up a second location in Jackson for middle school students, and are in the planning process of opening new locations in Grand Rapids and Detroit.
“I love the idea of being in other communities, reaching other
kids out there who are lost and have no hope.”
Founder Veronica Fernandes