Rise School of Austin breaks ground on permanent location

Nicole Bueno

After years of fundraising, the Rise School of Austin officially broke ground Tuesday on a permanent location in East Austin, due in part to donations from current and former UT officials.

The school, renamed the Sally and Mack Brown Rise School of Austin, provides equal preschool-level education and an integrated environment to children with and without special needs. The opening of the new facility in August will make it the first educational campus of its kind in Austin. Rise provides a combination of traditional curricula, therapeutic instruction and community support to both special needs children and average learning-speed children within the same classroom.

UT System Regent Steve Hicks and his wife Donna Hicks join former UT football head coach Mack Brown and his wife Sally Brown among the many donors who contributed to the new school, the construction of which is being privately funded in full.

Besides giving Rise a permanent location, the new building will be able to accommodate the special needs of its students, executive director Emily Greer said. Rise meets the Texas Workforce Commission’s highest educational standard for special needs children, and the new location will facilitate both physical and social therapy in addition to the already advanced curriculum. Rise will include an indoor physical therapy lab to improve motor skills, a music therapy room, a sensory garden and modified classrooms to accommodate those with special needs.

Prior to the acquisition, Rise was taught for years in rented churches around Austin, and Rise music therapy teacher Danielle Saunders said the impermanence detracted from the learning experience.

“It’s hard to run a smooth, cohesive day without something as simple as bathrooms near your classrooms,” Saunders said.

Despite the lack of a permanent location, Rise has made a name for itself with a 3:1 student-to-teacher ratio and a “Rising Star” accreditation of curriculum by the Texas Workforce Commission. 

Donna Hicks, who has also served as a past president and current member of the board of directors for Rise, said she is thankful for the donations driving the project.

“We need quality preschools to meet the needs of thousands of children, and Rise can prepare them,” Hicks said in her speech at the groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday.

Greer hopes that Rise’s new location will increase its ability to better the lives of children.

“It’s wonderful that we can now teach with state-of-the-art equipment,” Greer said. “And what we can’t teach them — things like compassion — they learn through their peers.”