April 18, 2024 1:51 pm

The premier news source for Snohomish County

From poverty to promise, Inslee visits Rise Up Academy

EVERETT—Kicking off its 25th year of educational excellence, Governor Jay Inslee toured Rise Up Academy on Wednesday, January 17, seeing firsthand an education curriculum that refuses to let any child “fall through the cracks.”

“Trudi and I have been trying to help for the last four years on this by creating resources for early childhood education,” Governor Inslee said.

rise up academy
Governor Jay Inslee and First Lady Trudi standing in front of a welcome banner made by students of Rise Up Academy. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.

“Yes, I can!” The kids replied when asked if they can read, spell, and do math. “I can learn anything,” they told Governor Inslee.

Rise Up Academy, a nonprofit founded by Dr. Paul A Stoot, Sr., in 1999, is an early learning center in South Everett for Preschool to Kindergarten students that also offers after school programs. With 65 enrolled students and a student-teacher ratio of 5-to-1, the school prides itself on its pupils exceeding standardized tests by its accelerated learning methods.

rise up academy
Governor Jay Inslee (second from right) with Dr. Terry Metcalf (right) listening to a kindergarten student read at seconds-grade level at Rise Up Academy. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.

“If they can pick up a phone and figure it out before I can, then there is a lot they can do,” Seattle-born professional football player, Dr. Terry Metcalf, now Curriculum Specialist at Rise Up Academy and Lead Kindergarten Teacher told Governor Inslee.

Dr. Metcalf and teaching assistant Ms. Mareddy demonstrated their methods to the governor with two exercises—one in phonics and the other in musical theory. The instructors teach by skillset, not age.

“We take young children who are underage, based on public school criteria, and teach them first and second grade information and they exceed, they excel,” Dr. Metcalf said.

rise up academy
Joan Litzkow (left) sharing with Governor Inslee and First Lady Trudi on the academic success of Rise Up Academy students. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.

Holding back tears, Joan Litzkow, Chief Operating Officer of Rise Up Academy and the 2011 Everett School District Teacher of the Year, shared with Inslee that one hundred percent of kindergarten students completed first-grade curriculum of phonics and math and were ready to start second grade.

“You don’t see that in general education…you don’t see that kinda start for these kids, so for me it is magical,” Litzkow said.

Rise Up Academy new Early Learning Center

Dr. Paul A Stoot, Sr., founder of Rise Up Academy, formerly known as Greater Trinity Academy, sat with the governor with hopes the state can help bridge the gap in the school’s ambitious plan of expanding to a 6,800-square foot Early Learning Facility that will double the number of students it serves from 65 to 130.

“We are taking these children from poverty to promise, problems to promise, perceptions to promise,” Dr. Stoot, Sr., told the Lynnwood Times. “We are taking these children from a trajectory from which society already gave up [on them] because of the homes they were born into. I am gonna save them. I am not Superman, but I will be ‘thee’ man for them.”

rise up academy
The proposed new 6,800 square foot early learning facility at Rise Up Academy. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.

In July of 2023, Rise Up Academy received $2 million of $7.6 million of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act dollars (ARPA) that year to fund nearly 360 new child care slots fulfilling one of the key priorities community members identified in the countywide Pandemic Recovery Roadshow hosted by the Office of Recovery and Resilience. These dollars were allocated to fund access for high-quality childcare benefiting families over the next 20 years.

With a total project cost of the expansion at $12.5 million and including a $1 million grant provided by the Washington State Department of Commerce in 2022 and some additional donations, the Board of Directors for Rise Up Academy is about to launch an aggressive capital funding campaign this quarter to raise the $9 million still needed. The goal is to break ground when the project is 50-75% funded.

rise up academy
The current learning facility at Rise Up Academy. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.

“First we are turning to county, state, and federal sources with the help of Representative Rick Larsen,” Robert Bayersdorfer, with Optimus Fundraising told the Lynnwood Times. “Secondly we will seek help this quarter from philanthropist, foundations, businesses, and charitable donations.”

The proposed new Early Learning Facility will be built on the grounds of the existing South Everett campus and include six classrooms from three, a multi-purpose performing arts space to accommodate STEAM learning, an expanded library and technology space, and a new cafeteria.

Currently, 15% of its students are in foster care and 20% have an incarcerated family member. At a cost per pupil of $1050 per month, approximately 94% of students receive some form of financial assistance.

Dr. Stoot, Sr., is committed to ending not only the cycle of generational poverty for these families but also the cycle of institutional confinement.

“Invest in the future of children, so they can be the leaders of our country,” Stoot said. “You are investing in what you want society to look like five, ten years down the road… invest in something I know will be worthwhile someday.”

rise up academy
(L-R) Dr. Terry Metcalf, Governor Jay Inslee, First Lady Trudi Inslee, Carmen Best, and Dr. Paul Stoot, Sr. at Rise Up Academy on January 17, 2024. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.

Carmen Best, Director of Security Risk Operations, Microsoft Global Security, NBC/MSNBC analyst, former Chief of Police for Seattle, and the author of the book Black in Blue: Lessons on Leadership, Breaking Barriers, and Racial Reconciliation, who is engaged to Rise Up Academy’s founder Dr. Stoot, Sr., shared her commitment to supporting the program’s success.

 “There seems to be some political will and support for these young kids who are from oppressed families, under privileged in many ways,” Best told the Lynnwood Times. “What the school is doing here is amazing. I hope they get all the support from the governor and everyone else that can help.”

Brian Sullivan, Snohomish County Treasurer who attended the tour, also shared his commitment in advocating for Rise Up Academy.

“I have always been a big supporter of Rise Up Academy,” Sullivan said. “It is really important, especially for the Governor and other public officials, to see the work they do. Snohomish County provided $300,000 in Early Learning funding money years ago for this school and I am promoting that we continue that kind of funding for the future, and help with their capital campaign.”

rise up academy
Dr. Paul Stoot, Sr., leading the tour of Rise Up Academy on January 17, 2024, with Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Taylor Davis. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.

Rise Up Academy is located in what the county calls extreme “child care deserts” which is a census term to indicate an area has at least 50 children under the age of five that contains either no child care providers, or so few options that there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots. Additionally, these areas largely serve families that are at, or below, 65% of the area median income.

Stoot hopes that Governor Inslee, after seeing firsthand the unique curriculum at Rise Up Academy and how the facility aligns with his vision of eliminating the shortage of childcare in Washington state, that he and others will advocate for its growth and expansion effort.

“It is a dream that has come true,” said Stoot. “I have been trying to get a governor to set foot on these grounds for the past 20 years…He [Inslee] came and satisfied my dream. My bucket list was satisfied by him showing up.”

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