by Matthew Houghton
I have been an elementary principal for the last 20 years. An important and integral part of building a positive school climate has been the addition of Foster Grandparents to my schools. The Foster Grandparent Program, a program that places volunteers ages 55+ in schools and community organizations to support at-risk students, has been an invaluable addition to the school’s culture and climate. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing students’ faces light up when they enter the school building each day with a smile to be greeted by a Foster Grandparent with heartfelt “Good Morning!” and a hug. It gets the day off on the right foot for all.
Impact on my schools: The Foster Grandparent Program has improved the overall climate of the Monroe and Morse Schools. When students enter the building each day, they are greeted by the grandparent with a cheerful smile, hug, and check in. It is such a blast to be out there in the hallway when this interchange takes place. Foster Grandparents support students in the cafeteria each day by reinforcing appropriate manners and social skills, and facilitate the development of countless friendships between students.
Impact in the classroom: Foster Grandparents reinforce the importance of excellent literacy skills with the students they interact with each day. They read mostly one-on-one with children and sometimes in small groups with assigned book buckets filled with leveled reading material. The students that Foster Grandparents work with improve their vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension in reading, according to the district’s AIMSweb data. Foster Grandparents will often review spelling words to help prepare students for their spelling tests. Additionally, they will help students with their writing. The students that Foster Grandparents work with show better fine motor coordination, are more confident writers who are more willing to make corrections, and have more details in their stories than students who do not have regular Foster Grandparent support.
Impact on Teachers: Foster Grandparents have allowed the teachers to add additional literacy supports for students. Teachers have trained Foster Grandparents to reinforce targeted reading and writing behaviors that are necessary to improve at-risk students’ literacy skills. Students working with Foster Grandparents have increased their reading levels, according to our Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark assessments. Students are more willing to read aloud in class, and they read with more excitement and voice, as measured by our running records assessments.
Impact on Students: Students that Foster Grandparents work with daily are more calm, caring, have better attendance, and show more reading and writing gains (according to our district assessments) than their peers who do not have the one-on-one time with Foster Grandparents. Our school’s discipline data also shows that the students who work with the Foster Grandparents have better focus and attention in the classroom and have fewer disciplinary issues during unstructured time like lunch, recess, or on the bus.
Schools that Have Foster Grandparents vs. Schools that Do Not: I have been the educational leader at both types of schools and the data has shown that schools that utilize the Foster Grandparent Program have a better climate for students and staff. Students’ attendance increases, as does their academic achievement when they work regularly with a Foster Grandparent. Student behavior, social skills, and self esteem also increases when working with a Foster Grandparent.
Matthew Houghton is a guest blogger and the Principal of RSU #3 Schools, including Morse Memorial School in Brooks, Maine and Monroe Elementary School in Monroe, Maine. Foster Grandparents are placed in his schools through Penquis Foster Grandparent Program, a Senior Corps program funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service. May 7-11, 2012 celebrates National Senior Corps Week.