Levy dollars focus: RAP boosts student readers

Levy dollars focus: RAP boosts student readers
Posted on 12/09/2019
Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series of stories called “Levy Dollars Focus,” about programs supported by local levy dollars. Prior pieces: "Behavioral Intervention Specialists;" "Extracurriculars are vital to students."

Lake Wilderness Elementary Reading Assistance Program Paraeducator Jody Bedell works with students to help them learn reading strategies. On this day, Bedell and her second-graders were practicing comparing and contrasting two characters in a story.
Lake Wilderness Elementary Reading Assistance Program Paraeducator Jody Bedell works with students to help them learn reading strategies. On this day, Bedell and her second-graders were practicing comparing and contrasting two characters in a story.


Sometimes, when students “graduate” out of the Reading Assistance Program, they are disappointed. Not because they aren’t proud of their progress and growth as readers, but because they have enjoyed their small group time and activities so much. It’s the ultimate compliment.

“The kids love coming,” said Natalie Stumpges, the reading specialist for Rock Creek and Glacier Park elementaries who oversees RAP. “Once they get here, it’s a safe place where they can make mistakes. They set goals and we help them reach those goals.”

Parent Andrea Bell has had two daughters attend RAP, and, in both cases, was grateful they had additional support.

“When (my younger daughter) was struggling, I wanted her to qualify,” Bell said. “It just gave me peace of mind that someone is paying attention to her and they’re not going to let her fall behind.”

The atmosphere that the RAP staff members create is inclusive and appealing, she added, noting that when her younger daughter exited the program, she was sad to miss out on the time she had spent with her fellow “rappers,” as she dubbed them.

“It’s almost like a cool club that they get to go to,” Bell said. “I just love RAP. … I’m such a big proponent of it.”

Students qualify for -- or are referred to RAP -- by their teachers, if there is concern that they are not reading at grade level. Additionally, reading specialists at each building review reading assessments to make sure students who need support are identified. In grades 3-5, students are also referred if they could benefit from a boost in being able to explain their thoughts in written responses.

“I think sometimes people think RAP is a track to special education, and it’s not,” Stumpges said. “It’s an intervention. We’re here to support them.”

Students work on reading skills with paraeducators in small groups each day for 30 minutes (with the exception of fifth-graders, who attend RAP for 30 minutes a day, four days per week). They also take books home to work on reading skills with their families. The skills covered in RAP are many of the same ones that students work on in class as well, and include reading strategies such as “Chunky Monkey (break the word into chunks you already know) or “Pointy Penguin” (point to each word as you read), decoding words, comprehension, making inferences and predictions and learning to summarize.

The number of students in each RAP group can vary a bit, Stumpges said. “We always look at the greatest need. If we have a child who needs on-to-one, then I will move heaven and earth to try to make that happen.” In general at Rock Creek, RAP groups are two to three students for kindergarten and first grade; three to four students in second grade; and no more than five students in third through fifth grade. Scheduling students is the most difficult part, she said, because they try not to have students miss core content if possible.

The amount of time that students spend in the program also varies, depending on what is best for the individual. Some students attend for part of a year and then exit, while others attend throughout elementary school.

Shelly Huylar, K-5 Literacy Specialist for the district, said that in the past, the goal was to only get students to grade level standard. Several years ago, they began aiming for a year and a half of growth in order to close the gap with the students' peers, Huylar said.

"We have seen that growth in our data in the last two years in a significant number of our students," she said.

In the RAP room at Lake Wilderness Elementary this week, groups of second-graders greeted each other as they sat down to work together. “Hi, Brody!” one student said, cheerfully. “Hi, Myles,” the other student replied. As they waited for the third student in their group to arrive from her homeroom, the two read books individually. Once Nala S. arrived, completing their group, paraeducator Jody Bedell explained their learning target for the day: “I can compare and contrast two characters in a story.” The group discussed what the words “compare” and “contrast” mean, and then began to read “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse.”

Bedell asked the three students questions to help them compare and contrast the two mice and their environments, pausing between pages. Next, she asked the students to read a page on their own and to write down any words they weren’t sure of, so that the group could discuss those terms afterward.

At an adjacent table, paraeducator Dorothy Timmons worked with two second-graders, reading and discussing a nonfiction text about fire trucks. Ella P. and Eli P. noticed “text-to-self” connections, or parts of the book that relate to a personal experience in their own lives. They also talked about key words from a word bank that they created before reading the book. As the students turned to drawing a picture about the fire truck text, Timmons talked with them about what they would work on during their next lesson, including words with common vowel combinations such as “ai.”

In all RAP classrooms, staff members work diligently at recognizing and praising student improvement, because it helps them grow in their confidence as readers.

“One of the most powerful aspects of RAP is the sense of success students experience as readers and as learners,” said Karen Roberts, the reading specialist for Cedar River and Shadow Lake elementaries. Instructors in RAP “work to build on the child’s strengths, while teaching, encouraging, and celebrating their reading progress. In the midst of these positive learning experiences, students gain confidence; they learn that with hard work, practice, and support they can become better and better readers.”

Lake Wilderness and Tahoma Reading Specialist Deanna Sund said that in addition to reading intervention and support of skills taught in the classroom, RAP also provides social-emotional support for students.

“They get to connect with their RAP teacher and have a small group where they form relationships,” Sund said. “It’s kind of fun, because a lot of them start out kind of resistant. After they’ve come, and they get to know their teacher and their group, it becomes a really fun interaction. A lot of them don’t want to exit RAP.”

Sund emphasized that open communication and collaboration with families is not only important, but vital to students’ success. “We’re here to support the students and the families. We welcome it. We have to work together, and collaboration with the families is so important.”

Parent Michelle Briggs said her daughter enjoyed going to RAP at school. The program improved her confidence in reading, and helped her love to spend time reading. Her daughter has since graduated out of the program, but she still uses the strategies at home.

“She will sit down with her little brother and she will pull out her reading strategies and pick one like ‘Eagle eye’ (look at the pictures). Then she will ask ‘What are they doing?’ I love that the teachers/reading specialists have taught her these skills,” Briggs said.

The ultimate goal of RAP is to help students get to reading level and exit the program, Stumpges said. “One hundred percent, our intention is to help and support them to grow. We want them to feel successful and be successful. We love them.”

RAP at a glance
Cedar River: 70 students served by three paraeducators*
Glacier Park: 70 students served by four paraeducators*
Lake Wilderness: 142 students served by six paraeducators*
Rock Creek: 63 students served by four paraeducators*
Shadow Lake: 73 students served by three paraeducators*
Tahoma Elementary: 106 students served by four paraeducators*

*Some RAP paras are full-time, while others are part-time. Ex: Shadow Lake has three full-time RAP paras, while Glacier Park has two part-time and two full-time RAP paras.

Rock Creek Elementary RAP paraeducator Jamie Montgomery, at left, works with a group of students this week, while additional small groups of students read and learn together at other tables.
Rock Creek Elementary RAP paraeducator Jamie Montgomery, at left, works with a group of students this week, while additional small groups of students read and learn together at other tables.
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