The Foster Grandparent Program of Northern Utah provides one-on-one tutoring help to children in elementary schools. Included in the Northern Utah region are Davis, Weber, Morgan, Box Elder and Cache counties. According to Charity Moon, the Foster Grandparent Program Director, last year there were 2,100 students benefiting from the help of a foster grandparent. Currently 54 schools in the northern Utah district have a foster grandparent in them.
Shirley Clark, a foster grandparent at Hannah Holbrook Elementary in Bountiful, has been volunteering for the past two years. She currently works with students in first, second, third and fifth grades, meeting with each one twice a week. Clark, a former elementary teacher herself realizes the benefits that come from individual tutoring. “I just really enjoy working with children. It is wonderful to see their progress,” she says.
Grandma Bev, as the students at JA Taylor Elementary in Centerville call foster grandparent Beverly Searle, has been volunteering for the last three years. She volunteers every day from the time the first bell rings until the time the last bell rings. This year she is working with Mrs. Crook’s fourth-grade class, the only fourth-grade class in the school. “With 31 students there is no way I could give the students the individual help they need,” said Crook. “Grandma Bev is the one who works individually with the students who are behind or who have been absent.”
“I know it’s hard for them to sit in class and not be able to read what the other kids are reading. We have two young students that started the year out on a first-grade reading level. Now they are between a second- and third-grade level. It is wonderful to watch them develop,” shares Searle.
Fiet, a foster grandparent at Columbia Elementary in Kaysville, meets with 17 students twice a week to provide individual help with reading. “I was looking for something to do when I retired where I could get out and get away from my home and that would contribute to my community,” she said. “This is very rewarding. You see these children progress and blossom. They are excited to be catching up with their classmates.”
Fiet relates one of her most rewarding experiences was with a student who would have his head down on the desk each day when she would come in to call him out. Immediately when she would call him, he would lift up his head and come running out. “He’d say, ‘I can’t read.’ I said, ‘Yes you can, you just don’t know you can,’” said Fiet. “He was one of my best students.”
According to Moon, foster grandparents need to be 55 or older, have a limited income and be willing to volunteer at least 15 hours per week. Training is provided by the county and by the individual schools. Though reading is the primary focus of the program, grandparents can help in other core subjects that the students are struggling with.
“The main goal is to get kids the one-on-one attention they need to get them to their grade level,” said Moon. More information on the program can be obtained on the county’s website under senior services.
“This service is very needed,” asserts Fiet. “If the kids don’t know how to read, it affects their whole life. They start out not liking reading, but by the end of the year they love it.”