Students and Volunteers Benefit
“What can I do to get a smile?” asks Lois Pederson of a particularly glum third grader. The child didn’t do so well on her math homework. Grandma Lois, as she is known around Voyageur Elementary in Alexandria, is helping the child to understand why, and to correct her work.
The whole process only takes a few minutes, and as the child leaves Grandma says, “Thanks for working with me!”
Grandma is at school three days a week – Tuesday through Thursday, working with kids about 15 hours a week.
“There are always kids that need one-on-one help,” said Grandma. “We mostly work on reading and math, a little language and spelling too. It’s wonderful to see the kids smile and feel good about themselves.”
Lori Schmidt, a third grade teacher at Voyageur, is one of the staff Lois works with routinely. “Grandma is very patient. No matter how long it takes, she’ll keep working. If it’s not going to happen today, she’ll try again tomorrow.”
“It’s very rewarding,” said Grandma. “You can see their achievements.”
Grandma understands that part of her role is to be another adult in the children’s lives; a role model. She chooses
to eat lunch with the children for just that reason. “It’s fun!” said Grandma. It also gives her a chance to find out how kids are feeling outside the classroom. “It’s another way to be their friend.”
The children benefit from having Grandma at school, but Foster Grandparentsreceive benefits too. Each receives a small stipend for their work and an immense amount of satisfaction.
In Grandma Lois’ case, her husband passed away the year before she retired. Those two major life changes meant Grandma needed a little uplifting. “Somehow, those smiles and hugs just take care of things,” said Grandma.
Being a Foster Grandparent allows Grandma to get out of the house. “I feel better about myself. It’s made me a happier person.” There are also other adults at school, giving Grandma an opportunity for fellowship. “The teachers are so good about including me, and treating me like I’m a valued member of the staff.”
“It just gives you a new lease on life.”
Grandma and Venald
Sometimes, Foster Grandparents are brought in to help with special situations in classrooms. Venald was adopted from Haiti by his family in Alexandria in September of 2014. While he did speak English when he arrived in Minnesota, he had never been taught written English, nor sat down to complete math worksheets or other written assignments the way children his age in the U.S. do.
His adoptive family worked with him to get him ready for school, but when he arrived at Lori Schmidt’s third grade classroom at Voyageur Elementary in December, Grandma was there to help too.
“Grandma was huge!” said Mrs. Schmidt, “Venald needed support.”
It can be difficult for a classroom teacher to focus on the needs of one student, so Foster Grandparents
can offer that one-on-one time.
“Grandma worked with Venald on reading and math. She’s wonderful with him.” With everyone working
together, Venald “has made wonderful strides.”