Grandparents foster learning at Washington Elementary

       Many senior citizens have a lot to give but nowhere to give it. Many young students could use an older guiding hand.
       These are two of the concepts behind the Volunteers of America's (VOA's) Foster Grandparent program, in which individuals age 60 and over come into classrooms 20 hours a week to help youngsters with their learning.
       In District 11, Washington Elementary is one of two schools (Ivywild is the other) benefitting from the service. There are three “grandparents” currently at Washington, helping out in grades K-4: Reta Stukes, first grade; Carol Archuleta, kindergarten; and Peggy Curtis, third and fourth grades.
       They assist classroom teachers by working separately with one or more students at different times. Especially appreciated is Archuleta's being bilingual. Five Washington kindergarteners speak only Spanish.
       “It's been a great little partnership,” Principal Peter Cicatelli said. “They give to the kids and get something in return.”
       In keeping with the VOA mission of providing outreach for social needs, the program is tailored for schools with larger numbers of lower-income children; by the same token, the seniors must themselves be lower income. They then receive a stipend for their work.
       Kathy Bell, who coordinates the local program, said that Foster Grandparent applicants need to complete 20 hours of orientation and training. Part of the training updates seniors on “what school is like today,” as opposed to when they were in school, Bell said. Also, they get a primer on dealing with conflict and working with teachers, parents and prinicipals.
       After a senior starts work, regular “in-service” meetings are held to discuss issues and provide educational updates.
       In addition to helping students with schoolwork, the volunteers are like “cheerleaders for the kids,” Cicatelli said. “There are areas where the kids are trying to improve, and the Foster Grandparents can work with them and give encouragement.”
       The program, which started in 1965 as part of President Lydon Johnson's Great Society, is funded with a federal grant and has existed at Washington for six years. In Colorado Springs, there are 10 Foster Grandparent programs in all, including ones in Head Start and youth correctional facilities.
       The VOA presented an award and plaque for the city's Outstanding Volun-teer Station to Washington Elementary last spring. According to Bell, the award was based on the support of the foster grandparents at Washing-ton, the school's training efforts and the good communications between the school and the program.
       “The rewards to volunteering as a Foster Grandparent are many,” Curtis said, “touching the lives of children in many ways, enjoying their enthusiasm and love, their hugs, smiles and words of 'Thank you, Grandma.'”

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