Scores are Rising – Sumter County Students Improve Their Math Skills at the LSSC RISE Academy

While many high schoolers find math challenging, one group of students in Sumter County has chosen to rise to that challenge.  

Lake-Sumter State College (LSSC) teamed up with Sumter District Schools again this year to identify approximately 250 students in need of strengthening their skills in the math curriculum required by the state of Florida for college readiness, a metric measured by the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test (P.E.R.T.).  

LSSC marketed the RISE Academy to eligible Wildwood Middle High School and South Sumter High School students to invite them to a free three-week summer program to improve their math-based PERT scores with support from the United Way of Lake and Sumter counties. 

The RISE Academy was initially piloted in 2014 at the LSSC Sumter Center and has hosted students ever since, aside from a hiatus in 2020. LSSC math professor Sybil Brown, the directing coordinator of the RISE Academy, has been a part of the program since its founding. She credits several high school teachers and LSSC faculty for their contributions to student success at the RISE academy over its tenure.  

“During RISE, we get to work so closely with each student, which is different from our traditional classroom setting,” Brown said. “Connection really makes a difference in understanding each student and what they need to grow.”  

Remarkably, the RISE Academy averages one instructor for every four students. 

Shawn, a student at South Sumter High School, agreed that the program has a unique feeling.  

“It’s not like other programs,” he said. “They really work with you individually here.” 

Primarily, the math camp consists of three weeks of algebra and geometry training, the main topics on the math portion of the P.E.R.T. Interestingly, the camp also provides explorative fun with a variety of interactive field trips and activities for the students. A typical day for the academy consists of working on individual math plans in one-hour blocks beginning at 9:30 am and ending at 3:00 pm. The plans are formulated from a diagnostic test on their first day and tailored to the students’ improvement opportunities. Purposely allotting breaks after one-hour segments aim to spark engagement with group activities or discussions and complimentary lunch. 

Program leaders say students usually never work for more than an hour to keep them attentive and motivated. The study breaks include college prep activities like describing terminology used at colleges and learning about career pathways in higher education. The students also reflect on their own abilities and experiences to help determine future career goals. Other college prep items covered include reviewing a college readiness checklist, financial literacy, and career planning. 

“We didn’t just sit in a classroom during the program,” South Sumter High School student and RISE Academy participant Gabriela said. “We had fun brain breaks and games that helped us learn while doing something cool at the same time.” 

The students also took field trips to the LSSC South Lake campus to explore the nursing school and biology labs. For some, this gave precise goals to strive toward. 

“My goal is to become a registered nurse and then nurse practitioner, and I plan to dual enroll at LSSC to get started,” Wildwood Middle High School student Nadia said. 

Furthermore, they explored the Criminal Justice program and others on a field trip to the Leesburg Campus to obtain an insightful, firsthand experience about what LSSC can offer. Plus, a stop at President Bigard’s office for a group photo! 

The academy shows that college is a viable option for everyone, in part, by the vastness of pathways it offers students to grow themselves. 

“At first, college seemed scary, but RISE made me excited to go to college,” South Sumter High School student Samuel Aries said. 

Students entering their junior and senior years of high school join the program hoping to improve their P.E.R.T. test score and better understand mathematics. However, they are rewarded with many more illuminating experiences and information about the opportunities that await them once they pass the P.E.R.T.  

LSSC is proud to see an increase in every student’s P.E.R.T. score that attends by at least seven points on average of the 150 total points available on the test. As a result of their improved score, nearly half of the academy participates in dual enrollment after RISE. Some even finish with an associate degree in conjunction with their diploma, further proving the power that setting goals and taking hold of one’s future during a student’s formative years can have.