Foster grandparents fill in the gap

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 9/24/97.

With our mobile society, many school children dont have grandparents living in the same community or even the same state as they do. Foster grandparents have been filling in a gap for special needs children within a school district.

The Paynesville Area School District has three foster grandparents who go into the classroom to work with special needs students. Nancy Larsen and Evelyn Bruntlett started working in the foster grandparent program last March. Wilhelmina Rabine (Grandma Willy) has been part of the program for two years.

Another foster grandparent in the community is Katherine Halvorson. She doesnt work in the school but goes into individual homes to work with children.

As a foster grandparent, these ladies share their love and experience with special needs children. They form a bond and a friendship with these children.

Nancy Larsen, Paynesville, is a retired teacher/librarian. She enjoys being with the children without the hassel of lesson plans. She works five days a week, from 8 a.m. to noon, in the special education department and with first graders.

I read about the foster grandparent program in the Paynesville Press and thought it was something I could do to help out, Larsen said. She plays math games with the kids, helps them with counting and learning their letters, and practices flash cards.

The foster grandparents are used to reinforce what we teach the students in English, math and spelling, special education teacher Lori Ashe, said of the program.

Grandma Willy enjoys working in the program as it gives her an opportunity to work with handicapped children. They are more susceptible to peer pressure and need encouragement to face the future, she said.

Grandma Willy comes to the school four days a week, spending five hours per day in the classroom with the children. A retired pastors wife, she finds working in the school helps occupy some of her free time since the death of her husband two years ago. I do whatever the teachers want, she said.

Both Larsen and Rabine help out in the lunchroom as well. They help the younger children with their trays and milk glasses. The adult presence in the room helps calm the children, they said.

Ashe feels the ladies are modest in talking about what they do at the school. They are a real big help to us, she added. They give the students one-on-one attention that they need, allowing the students to do extra practice on various lessons which we dont always have time to do, Ashe said.

Halvorson has been in the foster grandparent program 11 years. I prefer going into the homes over the classroom, she said. It gives me more one-on-one time with the children. I do whatever the kids want.

Halvorson said she does whatever a grandmother would do in a home, she watches television with the kids, helps with homework, plays games, bakes cookies or does crafts with them.

I dont have any grandchildren who live close, so these kids fill the gap. I love it! she added.

She works with five different families between Richmond, Belgrade, and Paynesville. The kids range in age from five months to 16 years. When I lose one family (moving or goes off welfare) I get another, she added. I really enjoy working with the kids. They are what keeps me coming back to the program.

Foster grandparents help the students with computer lessons, read stories to the students and listen to the students read stories and assist with worksheets.

Foster grandparents attend in-service workshops once a month in Sauk Centre. Catholic Charities, whom they work through, keeps them up to date on the program and agencies available to help families.

Who is eligible to be a foster grandparent? Men and women, age 60 and over, who meet income guidelines and have the ability to volunteer 20 hours each week. Compassion, patience, flexibility and respect for children are important qualities in a foster grandparent.

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