Sharing the love: Classroom grandparents prepare for a new school year

There’s no love like that of a grandparent.

With that in mind, more than 40 seniors from Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson and Jennings counties are sharing their abundant love with students in area classrooms.

They are classroom grandparents, and for four hours every weekday, these men and women ages 55 and older are spending time tutoring students and assisting teachers.

“Helping the kids, getting grandma hugs — they just make your day,” 86-year-old Margaret Hedrick said.

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For 20 years, “Grandma Margaret” Hedrick has been a grandparent to students at Hope Elementary School. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Hedrick divides her time between two kindergarten classrooms and first-, second- and third-grade classrooms where she spends one-on-one time with students, reads with students and observes them as they complete reading tests.

The nationwide Senior Corps Foster Grandparent Program is a federally funded classroom-based program and sponsored locally by Thrive Alliance. Adults age 55 and older are trained and supported by Thrive Alliance to build intentional one-on-one relationships with children with special and exceptional needs as well as with at-risk children.

The local program has rebranded itself as “Classroom Grandparents.”

Hedrick shares the classroom with “Grandpa Roy” Sangl, a 81-year-old Shelby County man who became a foster grandparent for Hope Elementary School nearly eight years ago.

Sangl discovered Foster Grandparents through a pamphlet at his dentist’s office.

“I just answered the brochure,” said Sangl, who was at first hesitant to join after hearing about children’s misbehavior in schools. It wasn’t until the second semester of the school year in 2012 that Sangl finally decided to give it a shot.

“I get more out of it than I give, and I give everything I’ve got,” he said.

Sangl picks up Hedrick every morning on his route to the school, and their passion for serving in their role as classroom grandparents is apparent.

Nothing warms Hedrick’s heart more, she said, than when she’s walking down a hallway and she hears kids shouting, ‘Grandma! Grandma!’ and she gets a quick hug.

“It’s good for us but definitely for the kids,” Hedrick said. “Some kids don’t have a grandma or grandpa close by. Some kids are actually raised by their grandparents. Either way, I just want to be a presence in their lives.”

Hedrick remembers strolling down an aisle at the grocery store six years ago and hearing a young man say, “Grandma, do you remember me?”

“I didn’t — he was a young man now,” Hedrick said. “But he said, ‘Don’t you remember how you helped me with my multiplication in third grade?’ I about fell over. Talk about feeling great that he remembered me.”

This year, dozens of grandparents will enter Bartholomew County schools, including Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp.

Diana Biddle is a recruiter for Foster Grandparents. This year, she brought in 18 new grandparents who will step into classrooms this fall when the school year begins across the five participating counties.

“I believe in the program wholeheartedly,” Biddle said. “It is a wonderful aide to the teachers and to the school corporation because you do exactly what the teacher wants you to do. Teachers have so many students in their classroom that they don’t have time to work with everyone one-on-one. It’s a very vital part of classroom teaching.”

Biddle spent the last year visiting retirement communities, doctors’ and dentists’ offices and beauty salons to hand out flyers and recruit more people.

“Since we took ‘foster’ out of the title, it’s much easier to recruit,” Biddle said. “The first thing people would say is, ‘Well, do you have to take them home with you?’ It is a Foster Grandparent program, but we’ve changed it to Classrooms Grandparents.”

Classroom Grandparents director Marcia DeBock said it’s amazing to see the bonds that these grandparents build with the children in the classrooms.

“When you think about elderly people and the fact that the one commodity that they don’t have much left of — they might have money in the bank, they might have cars, they might have a house — but time is a real question mark,” DeBock said.

“Look at what they give — they give the one thing that they can’t replace. None of us know how much time we have, and they give it to these kids and these teachers. It’s all done with the love of a grandparent.”

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Classrooms Grandparents make positive and long-lasting contributions to a child’s well-being. Locally, the program is sponsored by Thrive Alliance and serves Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson and Jennings counties.

Classroom Grandparents are at least 55 years old or older and receive a tax-free, non-reportable hourly stipend for their service, reimbursement for transportation costs, supplemental accident and liability insurance, and paid monthly trainings. The stipend is based on income.

No special experience is required.

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To become a classroom grandparent, call the Columbus office at 866-644-6407. A representative will provide additional information and an application.

The organization will conduct a background check and schedule a one-on-one meeting to learn about you. If eligible, you will be matched with a nearby school site and connected with a program buddy and teacher.

For more information, visit fostergrandparentsthrive.org.

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