Mentor program to grow in city

Experience Corps places senior citizens in elementary classrooms

4 schools to be added

December 14, 2006|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

A national program placing senior citizens in elementary classrooms as mentors is scheduled to announce an expansion today to four more schools in Baltimore.

Currently in 12 city elementary schools and poised to expand to 16, the Experience Corps program assigns seniors to work in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms.

Officials report that participating schools have seen significant reductions in the number of children sent to the office for disciplinary problems. And, they say, seniors are often happier and healthier as a result of the work.

This week, the city school board voted to spend $94,000 to expand the program to Eutaw-Marshburn, Furley and Highlandtown No. 215 elementary schools. Coldstream Park Elementary will add the program in the spring using private funds.

The $94,000 is significant because it comes from the school system's Title 1 money, federal money for schools serving impoverished children.

Used by 19 urban school systems, Experience Corps nationally receives much of its funding from private sources, though in Baltimore, the mayor's office chips in $250,000 a year. A major national funder is AmeriCorps, the domestic Peace Corps.

If school systems begin to fund the effort with Title 1 money, it could lead to a significant expansion around the country, said Michelle Hynes, the program's national director.

An announcement about the expansion in Baltimore is scheduled for this morning at Barclay Elementary/Middle School.

Linda Fried, director of the Center on Aging and Health at the Johns Hopkins University, recently received a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to study the effects of Experience Corps in Baltimore on both seniors and schoolchildren.

About 210 seniors are working in the program in Baltimore, with 15 to 20 assigned to each school. Almost all are at least 60 years old, and their average age exceeds 70. They work at least 15 hours a week and receive a stipend of $1,500 to $2,250 a year.

Sylvia McGill, education director at the Greater Homewood Community Corp., which administers Experience Corps in Baltimore, said students in participating schools have been less likely to act out when they get attention from seniors. She said there is anecdotal evidence that the seniors need fewer medical appointments and give up canes and walkers.

If she can prove those health benefits are widespread, Fried said, "it would have very significant implications for the country."

"There are very few meaningful roles for people after retirement," she said. "People feel thrown away." A sense of purpose, she said, might make the difference.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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