Schools welcome volunteer grandparents for individual help

Foster grandparent

FOSTER GRANDPARENTS: In this 2015 picture, Ruth Blanchard does the movements for a song with students at Eastwood Early Childhood Center. Like Eastwood, Crossroads Charter Academy is now a part of the Foster Grandparent program. (Pioneer file photo)

BIG RAPIDS — When a classroom is full of students, it can sometimes be hard to help each individual. To provide help for teachers and something to do for area retirees, Crossroads Charter Academy recently agreed to join the Foster Grandparent program with EightCAP.

EightCAP is a non-profit organization which aims to meet the needs of communities and individuals, such as with the grandparent program. Other area school systems with volunteers are Eastwood Early Childhood Center and Morley Stanwood Community Schools.

“When people are retired and have a lot of time, they may not feel a sense of purpose,” said Lori Johnson, manager of the Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion programs at EightCAP. “This program is a great thing for people who have nothing to do at home. It’s a really a cool opportunity.”

Grandparents in the program are assigned to students in schools and spend an average of 20 hours a week working on improving literacy with these students. Program volunteers work with students with physical or mental disabilities. Johnson said grandparent volunteers read to students, have students read to them, practice flashcards with students or help with homework.

“I think the idea behind the program is there is a lot of research on if students find an adult that they can have a connection with in the building, they are more likely to be successful,” said CCA Superintendent Christopher White. “The more adults you have, the more likely that is going to happen. Our classrooms are really small anyway but having another adult in there helps out so more students can have that connection to an adult.”

The Foster Grandparent program engages people age 55 and older, particularly those with a limited income, according to the EightCAP website. Volunteers in the program do receive a stipend for their service, which helps cover the cost of gas to get to and from schools, Johnson said.

“It’s really no obligation to the school except providing a lunch,” White explained. “We did agree – when you sign the contract with them, you have to agree to providing lunch, but there is an option to donate to the program too. Schools do not have to do that, but we chose to. We are going to have an out-of-uniform day and the money is going to support the program.”

The out-of-uniform day will be toward the end of April.

While there are no grandparent volunteers at CCA yet, White said there are a few interested residents. He hopes to have the volunteers complete their training and be in the school by the end of the year.

“They do a pretty in-depth training through the organization, so when grandparents come to the school, they are ready to go,” White said. “EightCAP does the background checks and the grandparents know what is expected when they get into the school.”

When volunteers sign up for the program, an orientation meeting is scheduled, Johnson said.

“It’s kind of a supply and demand,” she said. “Volunteers give us consent to do a background check and then we sign them up for training. Volunteers undergo continuous training; they attend monthly in-service training that enhances their volunteerism in classroom.

“It’s a great program for our volunteers to engage with.”

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Posted by Meghan Gunther-Haas

Meghan is the education reporter for the Pioneer and Herald Review. She can be reached at (231) 592-8382 or by email at mhaas@pioneergroup.com.

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