Hillsboro Elementary School has initiated a new resource for students that features an aging component.
About a month old now, the Foster Grandparent program in the school has two seniors on board, Diana Dalton and Hazel Hoffner.
“For me, this was and is a good thing,” Principal Evan Yoder said. “Both ladies are still hard at it, and I’ve heard and seen wonderful things.”
Dalton, the first recruit, had been living in Hillsboro for 15 years after living in the Kansas City area. She became aware of the program through an area-wide mailing from Butler County Department on Aging, the sponsoring agency.
“It sounded interesting to me,” Dalton said. “So I called to Satina (Goodwin, from the FG area office) and talked with her. It just seemed like a really good program.
“She told me they hadn’t done it in the Hillsboro school yet, so we had to start from scratch,” she added.
Yoder said the idea of Foster Grandparents struck a chord when he initially heard about the program through the mass mailing.
“We have kids who just need an adult with them,” he said. “I can think of a number of kids right now, and at the elementary school we have some pretty big classes.
“We have 27 kids in one of our third-grade classrooms,” he added. “If we had an adult sitting with a few of those kids, one per child, and giving them special attention that they crave and a lot of them need—we’re stretched too thin to get to all of them all the time.”
Dalton felt drawn to check out the program.
“I’ve always enjoyed children, and I worked with children in Kansas City before I moved here,”she said. “When I moved down here, I didn’t have that opportunity to work with children, and I thought this is a good time in my life to do something like that.”
Foster Grandparents is a volunteer effort, but the “volunteers” are paid for their time at the rate of $2.65 per hour with a work schedule of 15 hours minimum and as much as 40 hours per week.
“It can’t be counted as income for any other government program that they might be on, whether that’s subsidized housing or anything like that,” said Melody Gault, area program manager. “It was just a way to help them be able to volunteer.”
The minimum age for participating is 55, but Gault said the program has had grandparents well into their 90s who started the program in their 60s or 70s.
“We ask for a commitment of a year; however, some grandparents have stayed with the program until they can’t do it anymore,” Gault added.
“They usually stay in the classroom and with a particular teacher; however, it depends on the how the school district wants to go about it.”
Foster Grandparents does have an interview process.
“We give them an enrollment form that they fill out, then they go through an over-the-phone interview and an in-person interview,” Gault said. “We also do a complete fingerprint background check on everyone who comes into the program so the school can feel confident that they have passed the sex-offender test.”
Yoder said the local school supervises the program with ongoing reviews.
Orientation at the start
As the program requires, Dalton went through a 20-hour orientation program to prepare her for her mission.
“I went to Augusta, where we did 10 hours there, and then I worked at a preschool in Newton—and it was a very nice one,” Dalton said. “Actually, they wanted me to work there one day a week.
“When I talked to Mr. Yoder, he said, no, we could use you five days a week.”
Dalton came on board at HES in early October, and was assigned to Lenna Knoll’s third-grade classroom.
“What I’m doing is spreading my time (one on one) with those children,” she said. “They just need a little more help reading, or a little more help with math.
“Mrs. Knoll decided it would be nice for the children to get acquainted with me,” Dalton said. “So I have lunch with a different student every day, so that was kind of nice.”
She added, “I really like the teachers here in Hillsboro. I think they do a great job. And they move from subject to subject. Right now, they’re doing this, and then 30 minutes later they’re doing something else because (the students) do have a shorter attention span.”
Loving the children
Dalton said the primary criterion for participating with the program is to love children. Beyond that, there is room for flexibility regarding potential volunteers.
“There were several people during my orientation, one was a couple and he was in a wheelchair,” she said. “Satina prepared him—you know you’re going to get a lot of questions.
“I felt, isn’t it great that children will learn that people with a handicap are able to help other people.”
Dalton said her role as a foster grandparent has been fulfilling so far, but on occasion it can be tiring—but in a satisfying way.
So what would Dalton say to other potential foster grandparents?
“I would tell them it’s rewarding to work with the children, and the teachers are great to work with,” she said. “Everybody’s been friendly and welcoming.”
For more information about the Foster Grandparent program, contact Melody Gault or Satina Goodwin at 316-775-0500.