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Upbeat Metro Parks leader builds following at The Center at Norpoint

December 8, 2016

Julie Reddaway attracts Meeker Middle School students to Norpoint’s after-school program

The din that engulfs a middle school cafeteria at meal time is enough to overwhelm an uninitiated adult.

That person would not be Julie Reddaway, supervisor of Metro Parks’ after-school program at The Center at Norpoint in Northeast Tacoma.

Four days a week, Reddaway is a smiling beacon of welcome at nearby Meeker Middle School. She immerses herself in the lunchroom pandemonium, greeting kids and walking between tables, encouraging students to participate in whatever she’s got going on.

“Hey Julie, I’m your favorite, right?” one girl calls out from across the room. “You’re my favorite? You’re all my favorites,” Reddaway responds, then quietly explains to a nearby adult: “Her mom went to high school with me.”

You could say Reddaway, 49, is embedded in this neighborhood, not far from her alma mater Decatur High School in Federal Way. This is where she raised her two, now-adult daughters and ran an in-home day care for 13 years. Some of the Meeker students she supervises are ones she cared for as toddlers. But not all.

“I truly care about each one of these kids,” she said. “I try not to favor one over the other.”

Metro Parks’ middle-school program at Norpoint runs from about 3 until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. After school gets out, kids walk right over. Occasionally, Reddaway also hosts “late night” events on weekends, featuring dancing and other activities. The program also sponsors outings several times a year.

On this day in the Meeker cafeteria, her hands are full of permission slips and money collected for an upcoming, vacation-day field trip to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Every so often, a student bolts from his or her seat to say a quick hello to Reddaway.

“For some reason, I communicate well with kids,” she said. She admits not every grownup is suited to working with middle schoolers. “They are young adults trying to find out who they are. If they have an adult guiding them in the right direction, it helps.”

Leaders at Meeker Middle School appreciate her efforts. “She does a great job,” said Patrick Kjack, Meeker assistant principal.

Reddaway has worked at Norpoint in various capacities for about six years. In the summer, she supervises Norpoint day camps. Last year, she took over as supervisor of the middle school program.

Participation in the free, drop-in program has grown dramatically. With a total of 275 students enrolled, it attracts a daily average of more than 60 and sometimes significantly more. “I never expected it to be 70-plus kids in a day,” she said. Luckily, she has the support of teen assistants, who organize games and monitor behavior.

“I think it’s an amazing program,” she said. If she were still parenting middle schoolers, she’d want them to be somewhere supervised. “Anybody can come at any time. If they don’t have anything to do at home, they can come here.”

After school, Reddaway and her teen assistants greet Meeker students who dump their backpacks just inside Norpoint’s back door. Some play basketball or head outside to the playground. A few sign up for cooking lessons. Others just hang out. Every six weeks, offerings change.

Most of the time, Reddaway is happy to allow students to do what they want. Only occasionally does she switch into what she calls her “Mom mode’’ to put them on track. In the Meeker cafeteria, for example, she backs up school staff. When a boy tossed a piece of trash over his head, Reddaway noticed. “I think you missed the garbage can,” she said. “Go pick it up.”

Most of her time in the cafeteria is just socializing. “Why haven’t you been coming (to Norpoint)?” she asked a seventh-grade boy. “Your brothers are there.”

Occasionally, students confide in her, ask questions or disclose problems at home, Reddaway said. “It’s amazing how many things they tell me. I like it that they have a relationship with me. Sometimes, they just need someone to listen,” she said.

Tareena Joubert, who runs Metro Parks’ middle school programs, is proud to have Reddaway on her staff. “Her energy level is phenomenal. She’s so positive and upbeat and kids really respond to her.”

Joubert also commends Reddaway’s ability to connect with parents and her oversight of summer camp staff members.  Reddaway “recognizes the importance of implementing a curriculum where children can learn via atypical means such as playing games that hone math skills or exploring nature trails,” Joubert said. “She understands the significant role that social-emotional learning plays in child development and the importance of mentorship.” 

On the afternoon before the Zoo field trip, one small sixth-grade girl sidled up to Reddaway at Norpoint. “It’s going to be my first zoo,” she said excitedly. “And aren’t I lucky to get to share it with you!” Reddaway responded.

Learn more about The Center at Norpoint.