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The University of Alabama

UA’s RISE Graduation Celebrates a Father’s Love for His Son

NOTE TO MEDIA: Dress rehearsal for the RISE graduation ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 25, at the Stallings Center.  RISE parents, including Jerry Lee, and Martha Cook, RISE director, will be available for interviews during that time.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Jerry Lee knew he would do anything for his children, and he had the opportunity to do so when he discovered The University of Alabama’s RISE program.

Four years ago, Lee made the decision to move his family to Tuscaloosa so his son Jonathan, who has Down syndrome, could attend the Tuscaloosa preschool. Rather than stay in Huntsville while working during the week, Lee began the daily commute from Tuscaloosa; he didn’t want to miss those special nighttime memories.

On Thursday, the family will share one more special memory – Jonathan’s graduation.

Jonathan is one of 18 students who will graduate at RISE’s annual commencement ceremony at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 25, at the Stallings Center on the UA campus.

The RISE program, a part of the UA College of Human Environmental Sciences, serves children with disabilities and their typically developing peers, from ages 8 weeks to 5 years. The children are divided by age among six classes, each with 16 students, one teacher and three assistants. The school’s mission is the same as the University’s — teaching, service and research. The integrated preschool program not only benefits families in the community, it serves as a practicum and internship site for students from UA and other colleges.

According to Dr. Martha Cook, RISE director, the program has helped prepare more than 10,000 children, both disabled and nondisabled, for public school classes over the past 30 years. In 1999, RISE received accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a prestigious recognition achieved by only 7 percent of early childhood programs nationwide.

The RISE program, located in the Stallings Center and named for the family of former UA Head Football Coach Gene Stallings, looks like any other day care center, except provisions have been made to address the children’s specific disabilities. Classrooms, from infant to preschool, have been set up with age-appropriate toys, and each is staffed with a master’s level teacher and their aides.

Part of the RISE program also serves as a hands-on training facility for more than 2,500 UA students annually majoring in early childhood education, communicative disorders, nursing and social work.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.