Its back-to-school time at Shenandoah Elementary in Sarahsville, Ohio, (pop. 169) and kids arent the only ones returning to class. Senior citizens join them.
Every other week, a van load of seniors travels to the school where they team up with first- through fourth-grade students for an hour or so to read, work on math problems, or simply talk.
Its a perfect opportunity for children and adults to feel needed, says Joyce Davis, director of the Noble County Senior Citizens Center in nearby Caldwell. The grandparents feel important and needed in the community, and theyre making a lot of progress with the students who need help one-on-one.
Seniors and students form close bonds and look forward to seeing one another, exchanging cards and presents on special occasions. Belle King, 72, has been with the program since its inception four years ago. She has worked with Tiffany Brown, a fourth-grader, for two years and enjoyed every minute of it.
Ive found that so many kids need to know that someone thinks about them, listens to them, King says. With this program you feel like youre helping kids. Its better than sitting home eating bon bons and watching soaps.
When the two met at the end of the 1999-2000 school year, Tiffany shyly gave Grandma Belle a birthday card, and King gave her a special T-shirt with an astronaut on it. Isnt this pretty? Tiffany commented, smiling and admiring her shirt.
Patricia Stiers, a 68-year-old from Belle Valley, has worked with second-grader John Howell for a year. Hes a lovely childvery intelligent, and loves airplanes and science, she says fondly. He brings his assignments, and when his studies are done he likes to play checkers. His own version of checkers, she laughs.
The program began in 1996 after it was proposed during a meeting of community leaders and school representatives. Davis thought the idea of older adults working with kids was worth a try, and together the school and senior center paired volunteer grandparents with students.
The first year nine grandparents were paired with nine students. Since then the program has grown to include 42 senior/student pairs. While the numbers are one indicator of success, the real measure lies in how the program has helped both senior citizens and students.
Weve had great results, says Jane Barnett, the schools parent-community involvement coordinator. Teachers say students have more self-esteem, and the kids really look forward to meeting with their grandparents.
Theres one kid who always wears a white shirt and tie on the day his grandparent will be here, she adds. I bet not a day goes by that someone doesnt ask, Is today grandparent day?
Barnett emphasized that its not just reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also the social involvement that the kids and seniors value. Its not always academics, she says. Its also checkers, games, chess. Some of our kids have never done some of these things. We have a Banana Split Day thats always popular. Some of these kids have never had a banana split.
As long as kids need them, the seniors say they are committed to continuing the program. Ill do it as long as I can, says Nora Stewart, 83, who has worked for four years with student Donald Saling. I live alone; Ive got a lot of time.