For ten years we have offered a safety net to our Kindergarten and first grade students who perform in our lowest 20% on each grade level. The safety net is offered for 30 minutes daily and is taught by one of our paraprofessionals. We have invested in professional development over the years and have sent our paras to training that is only offered to teachers. We were very fortunate to have a teacher that had been a Reading Mastery Master Teacher before coming to us and had received advance training, come to our school as one of our Kindergarten, First Grade looping teachers. In years when we couldn't find outside training she always graciously offered to train and support our paras and has been their "go to" person when they had questions. The paras meet in every crook and cranny in the building including the hallway and closets! Since Reading Mastery is such a very scripted program, some people are surprised that we would use it at Chets Creek but it provides intensive lessons in phonemic awareness and phonics and that is what most of our youngest learners who are at-risk need.
We've never kept really good records on the success of this safety net program, but teachers anecdotal information is convincing. They can't wait for it to get started each year and often credit the para's work with students as a key to a child's success. However, as we get deeper into the RtI model, I am sure that will change. Keeping specific data will be our next step and proving that this really works with the numbers. We will also get better at matching the right kids with the right intervention. For now, the program simply provides extra support for our neediest students. My hat's off to our para group that cares more than they have to and works harder than we could hope for!