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Grandparents to mentor at schools

| Thursday, July 10, 2003

Students in the McKeesport Area School District will be getting help from some special mentors when school resumes in the fall.

District officials have approved a plan to bring volunteers from the federally funded Foster Grandparent Program into McKeesport schools.

George Ferguson, director of the Foster Grandparent Program of Southwestern Pennsylvania, explained that the program not only benefits students in need, but also gives senior citizens a chance to stay active and help their community.

"We have nearly 300 seniors in the program, and I have heard many of them say, 'Before I did this I was sitting around the house. I wasn't eating, I wasn't taking my medicine. This has given me a reason to go on,'" Ferguson said.

Senior citizens must be at least 60 years old and considered low income to participate in the program.

The program provides the training and does all background checks on the participants.

The seniors are paid $2.65 an hour for about 20 hours a week. Some also are reimbursed for their transportation costs and meals.

Assistant Superintendent Frank McLaughlin said the district will provide a 50 cents per hour stipend for the five seniors that are expected to be part of the program next year. Funding for the program is being provided from a $10,000 grant from the Mon Valley Education Consortium, McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said he saw students benefit from the efforts of older citizens during a similar program that brought the two generations together in the 1970s.

"You couldn't have a better role model," he said.

McLaughlin said having the senior citizens in the school is also a good way to let the community know what is going on in their schools.

"They are usually very impressed," he said.

McLaughlin said the district is grateful for the help the seniors will provide.

"We will treat them as professionals," he said.

Volunteers in the Foster Grandparent Program work with special needs, at risk or exceptional children, not only in schools, but also in hospitals and Head Start Day Care programs across the country, Ferguson said. Their main emphasis is emergent literacy and preparing preschool children for school.

In the classroom, volunteers work with individual children or small groups doing lessons or homework and there is always a specified reading time when they sit and read with the students.

"We're trying to supplement and enhance the instruction of the teacher," Ferguson said

The senior participants also are collecting and tracking data on students and reading for Partners Achieving Literacy Success.

Ferguson said not only do the young students benefit from the extra help with their school work but also from the attention of the caring adults.

"I've observed in the classroom, and when those volunteers walk in, kids just flock to 'Grandma,'" he said. "It's unbelievable the response. It's tremendous."

Additional Information:

Details

Anyone interested in becoming a foster grandparent can call the American Red Cross at (412) 263-3163.

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