After-school program makes ‘hard’ math and reading fun,

June 21, 2011

By Laura Geggel

Ella Bosancu (left) and Shannon Bergin work together at Briarwood’s ASAP program, which has dramatically raised math and reading test scores. By Drew Terry

Jacob Lovgren did not like math.

The Briarwood Elementary School fourth-grader called the subject “horrible” and his math scores showed it. When his teacher recommended he try Briarwood’s new After School Assistance Program in March, he got only 52 percent of the pretest math questions right.

Within seven weeks, ASAP turned Lovgren around. He studied division, and once he had a solid understanding of the basics, he excelled at math.

On a post-test in May, Lovgren scored 95 percent. He felt so confident in his math skills, that he thinks he did better than usual on the spring Measurements of Student Progress, the state standardized test, he said.

ASAP has been years in the making. A $7,500 grant from the Issaquah Schools Foundation has enabled Briarwood teachers to continue the program next year.

Every school year, teachers and administrators see children fall through the cracks.

“Looking at test scores and data, we realized we had several kids who needed a little extra instruction and opportunities to catch up with some of their peers,” Principal Drew Terry said.

In an effort to help them, Terry began a before-school math program in spring 2008, but there were few takers. He sweetened the deal the following year by offering free breakfast with the morning sessions, but attendance was still low.

“We weren’t capturing the kids that we wanted,” Terry said. “The ones we really needed here weren’t getting here.”

This year, he copied the middle school homework club model, and had teachers offer extra math help after school, and included snacks. The Briarwood PTA donated $3,000 for an activity bus that would drive the students home after ASAP.

“The teachers were willing to do it, and he had the curriculum,” PTA President Beth Donahoe said regarding Terry. “The key piece was getting them home again.”

After teachers evaluated which students needed extra help, the 2010 ASAP program kicked off in November, with teachers working with six students each. In all, 21 fifth-graders received extra help, and almost all of them improved from the pretest in November to the post-test in February.

“They just did marvelously well,” Terry said.

In the spring, Terry expanded ASAP to third- and fourth-graders, and added the subject of reading.

Fifth-grader Katelen Baggenstos has turned a 180 in the subjects of math and reading.

“I thought math was pretty hard,” she said. “It was hard for me to understand. There was one time I pretended to be sick so I wouldn’t have to go to math.”

Once ASAP helped her unlock the mysteries of division and multiplication, her negative opinion turned positive.

During the ASAP reading classes, she began to like reading, and she reads independently in her free time now, something she never did before. This summer, she plans to read more of the Twilight and Harry Potter series, she said.

Her mother Melinda Baggenstos said she was grateful the school provided after-school transportation. Otherwise, Katelen would have not been able to attend.

“The program has really given her confidence,” Baggenstos said. “It really is priceless.”

The ASAP curriculum, partly developed by Issaquah School District Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Emilie Hard, teaches students the basics of reading and math.

For math, students review place value as well as operations — that is, when and how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. The teacher will show an example and then ask the small group of students to do one, too.

“It’s back and forth,” Hard said. “This keeps the students engaged the entire session.”

During reading lessons, students learned how to actively read, second-grade teacher Jenna Thoresen said. She taught them to compare or contrast, find evidence, infer, look for the main idea and summarize what they just read.

“It’s easier for me to spot the ones who might need a little more attention,” Thoresen said. “I feel like I get to see the kids grow quicker.”

The math and reading ASAP sessions empowered fifth-grader Awjanea Hardin.

“I got better at subtraction and addition,” she said.

Plus, “My reading has gone up and I can’t wait until I go to sixth grade, because my reading will be better,” she said.

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or lgeggel@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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