The Howard County public school system is encouraging senior citizens and retirees to bring the skills they once used in the working world to school settings.
The system has launched an electronic newsletter called "Golden Opportunities" that lists volunteer positions in schools as well as announcements of school performances and activities. The system also offers free admission to school events and opportunities to advocate for the school system.
Seniors such as Dawn Center of Columbia are eager to spread the word about such opportunities, knowing firsthand of the benefits. For the past eight years, the retired teacher has volunteered in the media center at Clemens Crossing Elementary in Columbia, which her nephew attended. Her duties include handling circulation, shelving books and assisting with inventory.
Center, 68, quit teaching 12 years ago after being diagnosed with Meniere's disease, an inner-ear disorder that affects hearing and balance. Yet she still sought to be involved in a school environment and took an opportunity to help address a shortage of workers at the Clemens Crossing media center. She said many retirees who volunteer in school systems were once employees there.
"I think sometimes that's a natural. Teachers often enjoy being around colleagues. They enjoy being around students. They enjoy being where things like this are happening," said Center, who also supports the school's PTA and student fundraising events.
"When I retired, I kind of thought that sometime I might be able to do some tutoring," she added. "But I knew that it's very important that if you schedule to meet at 10:30 every Thursday for a student, you had to be there, because the student expected you to. I knew I could not be that reliable.
"Where I am, it just turned out to be a good fit," Center said. "Once the disease died down, I was able to be pretty reliable. I've been able to keep active. I enjoy being around the kids because kids are energizers."
Howard school officials say they're looking to tap into the work experience that the retirement community brings and that many of the system's advisory committees could benefit from senior members.
"The senior citizens are a very important component of our society, and the 'Golden Opportunities' newsletter will keep them informed of what's going on in our schools," said Board of Education Chairman Janet Siddiqui. "The seniors bring knowledge and experience that will benefit our students and bring our community together."
And many have helped students with projects that might not otherwise have come to fruition.
Roland McCullough, 74, of Columbia has been volunteering at Stevens Forest Elementary School, teaching fifth-graders how to start their own business. He helped the students at the Columbia school launch a greeting card business and advised them on marketing their product. He has also brought in other entrepreneurs to lecture the students.
"Young people rarely hear about entrepreneurship. I know when I was in school it never happened," said McCullough, who once owned a computer-based literacy training company. He said his children and grandchildren have attended Stevens Forest Elementary.
He began working with students there three years ago, teaching one-hour classes twice a week.
"The whole idea was getting students to understand basic business concepts, having to do with planning, advertising, competition and business forecasting," said McCullough. "We have an organization consisting of a president, vice president and treasurer. We have business staff meetings, and the president will instruct the vice president on things to do in the company."
McCullough said most of the students say they never considered starting their own business, adding that when he asks them what they want to be when they grow up, many say athletes, doctors or firefighters.
"I am always encouraged in how interested they are to learn the things that we're doing," said McCullough. "They really enjoy the classes; they tell me that. We get a lot done."
Center said she recently gave a Howard school flier announcing opportunities for seniors in the system to a friend interested in volunteering, and she encourages people to try out such tasks as being judges for science fairs or timekeepers for swim meets.
"You have to like being around kids. I think most people would enjoy it if they had the chance. People, I think, don't realize how really important it is to spend half an hour a week reading to a kid. They really look forward to it," she said.