It’s called RapTime, and it has made a big difference for children in Wesley Chapel.
Eight years ago, sisters Pam Thomas and Susan Riley, while working with Life Church and the Life Community Center, began a program to help kids stay in school and strive for high school graduation.
They came up with RapTime, which stands for Reducing Adolescent Problems Through Increased Motivation in Education.
The first group of kids are now juniors at Cypress Creek High School. The program enrollment has grown to 24.
Their grades have improved drastically. College is not only a dream, it’s now an expectation. Through field trips, they have been exposed to a range of educational and cultural experiences.
With funding from Life Church and the United Way, which helps with professional tutors, RapTime is thriving and getting results.
“RapTime has really helped me,’’ said Serena Burgos, one of the program’s original students. “I’m more confident about school and learning a lot from the tutors. They really help me get my grades up.’’
“It has been phenomenal,’’ said her mother, Yvette Burgos. “I have two daughters participating (including 12-year-old Isabella Melendez) and I never have to worry about their grades. My older daughter (Serena) is talking about becoming a nurse or maybe a doctor. She has a lot of great goals. She talks all the time about going to college. It has been a great, great thing for us.’’
It has fulfilled the dreams of Thomas and Riley, who simply wanted to give back in their neighborhood. They once did research and found that approximately 80% of the people in their area did not finish high school. They wanted to reduce that drop-out rate.
“What separates us from most after-school programs is we follow it through all the way to graduation,’’ Thomas said. “We’ve been with some of these kids a long time and seen all the maturation, all the changes.’’
“We are part of this community, so we live it, breathe it and do it with them every day,’’ Riley said. “How can you ride down the street and turn your face in a different direction when you see someone in need? Our pastor always said, ‘Use whatever is in your hands’ and ‘Your geography is your ministry.’ The best thing is to help these children and hope they come back and help future generations.’’
Along the way, RapTime has also received some help. Life Church (formerly Victorious Life Church) opened a new 3,000-square-foot community center that replaced a 900-square-foot building, allowing RapTime to add more programming and people.
The after-school programs run from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., on Monday (elementary school), Tuesday (middle school) and Wednesday (high school).
“We are still a small program, but we have grown,’’ Thomas said. “It’s word of mouth, not open to everyone. We grow from the foundation. We have gotten the parents to buy in. Not everyone wants the private tutoring, but it’s available to those who do want it. Even beyond our after-school sessions, we try to provide other areas of growth.’’
RapTime offers field trips. The kids have gone to the University of South Florida and Saint Leo University. They have visited museums, attended concerts and experienced athletic events.
“One of the reasons we took them to a USF women’s basketball game was to show them there’s more outside the four walls of their community,’’ Riley said. “And, it showed them that if you want to get to this point and go to USF, you’ve got to do A, B, C and D. You’ve got to finish high school and maintain good grades to get scholarships.
“The parents really want their kids to be involved in something. We want to give them a goal and keep them off the streets, where we sometimes see kids running wild and crazy. We want them to be focused and accomplishing things. We are reaching those goals,” she said.
When the first group of RapTime kids reaches high school graduations next year, they can expect a huge party.
Thomas and Riley, with a laugh, promise that a limousine will be involved.
“We all have something to shoot for,’’ said Ashley Wells, 16, a sophomore at Cypress Creek. “I used to have a lot of drama at school. This program has helped me not to have drama. Whether it’s my homework or the everyday schoolwork, I get stuff done now. It’s more fun this way.’’
By Joey Johnston
Published September 23, 2020