Seniors lend helping hand at schools

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Foster Grandparent Magdalena Gallegos works with students Wednesday in her assigned first grade class at La Casita Elementary School.

Liliana Castillo

Seniors Juanita Chavez and Magdalena Gallegos are called grandma by more than their biological grandchildren.

They are two of the 14 seniors who participate in Curry County’s Foster Grandparent Program.

Seniors 55 and older who can pass a criminal background check, aren’t on a sex offender registry and are physically fit can work in schools and daycares as mentors and tutors.

“We make sure we have good people,” said Program Coordinator Christopher Lopez.

The 22-year-old program is intended to give seniors an opportunity to interact with Clovis youth and to share their knowledge and experiences with them. The foster grandparents serve as an extra pair of hands for teachers in classrooms across the Clovis district.

There is at least one program participant at Clovis Community College’s daycare, Lockwood, La Casita, James Bickley, Arts Academy at Bella Vista and Highland elementary schools.

Lopez said foster grandparents can choose the school and are assigned a teacher. Teachers select students who most need one-on-one work and those students are assigned to a foster grandparent.

Lopez said teachers identify which subjects each students need to improve in and their progress is tracked throughout the year.

Lopez said most foster grandparents remain at the same school for several years. Gallegos, 76, has been a foster grandparent for 18 years and has spent all 18 years at La Casita Elementary School. Chavez, 78, has spent her 11 years at La Casita also.

“It gives me something to get up in the morning and do,” Gallegos said. “I love it.”

Gallegos, a Clovis resident who works at the school four hours a day, five days a week, said she works on reading with her two assigned first graders but that she works with groups to help the teacher. She said she has learned in the process of teaching students.

“I have worked on my pronunciation,” she said. “This keeps you learning and going.”

Chavez of Clovis, who works six hours a day, five days a week, has two groups of six assigned to her. She works with them on reading, math and spelling.

“I like it. It’s nice to help the kids when they need help,” she said. “They look to us for help with everything.”

Gallegos said students depend on them for help in every subject.

Gallegos works in first grade teacher Roseann Garcia’s classroom. Garcia said having an extra pair of adult hands is helpful.

“She really helps a lot. I’m able to put kids in groups with her,” she said. “It’s hard to do groups with one person. She works with a group while I work with another.”

Garcia said the students benefit from the extra small group time.

“Studies show that benefits them,” Garcia said. “And they enjoy her. We make sure they have a lot of respect for her. We tell them she doesn’t have to be here; she could be at home.”

Lopez said some students have one or no parent at home and having a foster grandparent in class provides a stable parental figure every day at school.

“The program gives the students some extra parental supervision at school that they normally don’t have,” Lopez said.

To volunteer: 763-6009.