Making educational materials “age-appropriate has been a big push in this field today,” said Ka’ala Rapoza, a Springfield resident who’s worked at the Key Center school for students with severe intellectual disabilities for 14 years.
Photo by Tim Peterson.
“I thought of sports, they appeal to a five year old and a 90 year old. And I thought of football, it’s certainly got the nation’s attention.”
-Ka’ala Rapoza, Springfield resident teaching at Key Center
If Barney, the big purple dinosaur, motivates one of his students to learn to count, Ka’ala Rapoza won’t stand in the way. But Rapoza, 37, also recognizes the need to balance age-appropriate teaching tools with the skill being learned. At the Key Center school for students labeled “intellectually disabled severe” in Fairfax County Public Schools, he can have teenagers up to 20 and 21-year-olds still working on mastering counting.
Making educational materials “age-appropriate has been a big push in this field today,” said Rapoza, a Springfield resident who’s worked at Key for 14 years. “How do you create interest in the skill” across a broad spectrum of ages. This was a question he sought to answer in writing his own educational book: “Over on the Football Field.”
Rapoza teaches a class he designs himself, that focuses on topics inherent to the students. He calls it “My Class,” so the students take ownership and each also call it “My Class” themselves.
He sees every class in the building of about 100 students once a week for an hour to 90 minutes. A recent lesson centered around Thanksgiving. They discussed not only the origin and history of the holiday, but also what it looks like to celebrate from the unique perspective of the students, the changes at home for which they need to prepare.
Another part of the lesson included having the students write thank you notes using a computer program that helped them choose words, pictures and phrases to build complete thoughts.
Rapoza’s book is meant to appeal to a variety of ages and provide several levels of challenges for these students.
Each page spread includes a similar repetitive rhyme structure that introduces a different football scenario, a number and an object to count, with illustrations by Rapoza’s father Richard.
“It’s a vehicle for emphasizing counting skills,” Rapoza said, while more skilled students can also use the book to practice reading. “I thought of sports, they appeal to a five year old and a 90 year old. And I thought of football, it’s certainly got the nation’s attention.”
Rapoza self-published the book and had copies printed by Illinois-based company Print Ninja. He expects to receive copies on hand in early December, with the intention of doing a combination of selling and donating them.
“I just wanted to get it out there,” he said. “We’ll see what the reaction is,” he said.
For more information, Ka’ala Rapoza can be contacted at Rapozawriting@gmail.com.
The Key Center school is located on Franconia Road in Springfield, attached to Key Middle School. The Kilmer Center in Vienna serves students with severe intellectual disabilities in the other half of Fairfax County.