Literacy breakfast rakes in the money


Staff writer

The fifth annual Literacy Kickoff Breakfast, a community event that raises money to help support literacy-related programs in Federal Way schools, surpassed previous years’ records by generating $30,066 last Friday.

School Board members Bob Millen and Charles Hoff, as well as educators from Mark Twain Elementary School and Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander — who served as master of ceremonies for the third year — were in attendance.

“Our goal is to make a large impact in Federal Way, therefore we are dedicating $60,000 per year toward that program to help children in (grades) K-2 become more literate,” said Teri Hickel, director of the Federal Way Education Foundation. “The intention is to catch them young so they can use their literate skills for the remaining school years, hopefully college and definitely in career (and) life.”

This year, the money will go toward a new reading program, called the Summer School Bridge Program, which offers supplementary — yet much-needed — tutoring for kindergarteners through second graders.

School district personnel introduced a teacher and a student who participated in the program when it was piloted last summer.

Mark Twain Elementary kindergarten teacher Alexandra Hernandez recounted the struggles of some of her students, whose native language was not English, to learn how to read last school year.

“For most of us, it’s very easy when we go into the classroom and English is our first language,” Hernandez said.

But for students like Aline Tapia, who lives in a primarily Spanish-speaking household, learning to read in English — a language she was unfamiliar with — left her falling behind other classmates.

”She’s trying to learn the language and trying to learn how to read at the same time,” Hernandez said.

Aline lagged behind other kindergartners last school year and struggled to get acquainted with the English alphabet and phonetics. But after a month-long, intensive tutoring program last summer, she not only caught up with her classmates, she surpassed her native English-speaking peers in her reading skills.

Now a first-grader, Aline reads at a second grade level.

The program is “complete immersion,” Hernandez said. “With Summer Bridge, it’s so individualized. It’s awesome. With the 4-to-1 (student-to-teacher ratio), you can really target what each child needs.”

The tutoring focuses on students with reading difficulties, especially students whose native language is not English — also known as the English Language Learners (ELL) demographic on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).

ELL students tend to struggle with language and reading parts of the WASL, and the federal government recently decided to relax its standards in testing and rating the progress of these students on the WASL and similar standardized tests.

Hernandez said she and Twain principal Doug Rutherford are happy the tutoring program will continue this summer.

“They’re writing and they’re reading and they feel great because now we’re going to the library and they’re checking out books. They bring in books, you bring out that independence. You know, reading is fun,” Hernandez said.

She said she’s glad to be nurturing a new generation of book lovers.

Federal Way Public Schools assistant superintendent Carol Matsui told the 260-plus audience at Northwest Church’s dining hall last Friday that this is the community’s opportunity to provide hope for students struggling to learn.

Superintendent Tom Murphy echoed Matsui’s words.

“Hope is an ethereal concept,” Murphy said. “How do we breathe life into hope?”

And the audience did give hope, in the form of thousands of dollars to fund the Summer Bridge program.

In the end, auctions of Dr. Suess books, flower centerpieces and two autographed Seahawks footballs — as well as donations from Capital One and even sponsorship by Weyerhaeuser, Capital One, the Federal Way Noon Rotary Club and Al and Kathy Franzen –– raised a record amount to support literacy programs.

“The overall mission of the Federal Way Chamber (of Commerce, sponsor of the Education Foundation) is enhancing community prosperity,” Hickel said. “Through that we’ve developed initiatives, one of which is education. We believe that the more literate the community, the stronger the workforce and greater quality of life. This ties directly to community prosperity.”

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565,

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