Elderly back in school to help youths


March 07, 2001|By Donna Koros Stramella | Donna Koros Stramella,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

DECADES AFTER most of them finished their last day in school, a group of county senior citizens has returned to the classroom.

The seniors are members of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a national effort administered locally through the Department of Aging. The 500 to 600 participants volunteer in a variety of places, including 15 county schools.

In the Glen Burnie area, RSVP members are volunteering at Freetown, Southgate and Richard Henry Lee elementary schools.

"A high priority for us for the last three years has been to make partnerships where senior volunteers can assist children with reading skills," said RSVP director Dianne Turpin. "The school tells us what they need, and the volunteers respond to that as far as the schedule allows."

One of the most measurable success stories has been at Richard Henry Lee. Ten RSVP volunteers are helping at the school each day in two programs - First Focus and Kinderkids - designed by reading resource teacher Marcia Hill.

In First Focus, each senior volunteer works with two children at a time, reinforcing reading skills through reading aloud and completing a related activity. In Kinderkids, the volunteers assist kindergartners who lack some of the skills necessary to enter first grade. The seniors again work with the youngsters two at a time following lesson plans designed to enhance math and reading skills.

The program uses activities that often have a twofold purpose and are designed to be fun. For example, a scissors activity helps build fine motor skills while teaching children to recognize shapes.

"I really don't think the students realize they're doing school work," Hill says. "They're just having fun."

Each lesson reinforces what students have learned in the classroom setting. "We're reinforcing the information for the second time," Hill says. "And if their parents are working with them at home, they're getting it three times."

Eight of the children have advanced so significantly that they are no longer in the program.

Hill tests the pupils periodically to chart their progress. Each volunteer completes a daily log to indicate progress and other information on each child.

"They jot down what they observed with the student that day," Hill says. "They provide information that is helpful to the next volunteer. It also helps me develop a lesson plan for the next week"

RSVP volunteers are helping in other ways, too. Friday, nine of the seniors took turns reading books including "Cat in the Hat" and "One Fish, Two Fish" for Read Across America Day, a nationwide reading celebration on the birthday of Dr. Seuss, the pen name of the late Theodor Geisel.

"I pulled one of our Kinderkids volunteers the other day and told her we had an opportunity for her to be a mentor for one of our students," Hill says. "I told her, `Before you were working with children who needed an academic boost. Now you'll be working with a student who needs an emotional boost.' They've only met one time and they love each other already."

Turpin has been pleased with the partnership between RSVP and Richard Henry Lee.

"This program is very successful," she says. "The children are fascinated by the older volunteers, and the adults are charmed by the freshness and innocence of the children."

Hill agrees, acknowledging that the mix of the generations has been a positive one.

"For the children, it's like having an extra grandparent around," she says.

Retirees' meetings

The Glen Burnie chapter of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees will meet at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Holy Trinity Church Hall, 7434 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd.

Charlene Cohen, president of the Maryland Federation of Chapters, will speak. Information: Stan Jacobs at 410-969-5980.

The area's chapter of AARP will meet Monday at the Glen Burnie Improvement Association, 19 Crain Highway.

A social hour with refreshments begins at noon, and the business meeting starts at 1 p.m. Susan Knight, a representative from the county Department of Aging, will discuss long-term-care insurance. Those attending the meeting are asked to bring a nonperishable food item for the North County Emergency Outreach Network.

Tickets for the group's March 18 bus trip to Burn Brae Dinner Theater are available. The cost is $42. The show is "Top 40," a musical review of eight decades of popular music.

Information: 410-766-2368.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.