Grandma goes to school

Sunday, August 30, 2009

MOREHOUSE, Mo. -- When the foster grandparent for his second-grade class at Morehouse Elementary leaves every day, Jayden Harris whispers in her ear "I love you."

That sentiment pulls at the heartstrings, and even brings tears to the eyes of Margaret Taylor.

"Every one of these students are precious to me," Taylor said. This year, she joined the Foster Grandparent Program, following in the footsteps of her mother, Allene Taylor. Every day, the duo assists teachers at Morehouse Elementary.

This marks the first time in the history of the 44-year-old program a mother-daughter have participated in the program together, said SaDonna Thompson, project director.

Margaret Taylor assists second grade teacher Beth McLemore, while her mother, Allene Taylor works with first grade teacher Elaine Old.

"I've been with it for 20 years," Allene Taylor said.

When Margaret Taylor moved back to Southeast Missouri over the summer, she said the decision to join her mother in the program was an easy one.

"I knew all the grandmothers that were here and I just thought it would be really fun," she said. "And I really enjoy it. It makes me feel useful."

Her mother, on the other hand, said that she "just kind of fell into" the Foster Grandparent Program.

Years ago, she worked as a cook at Morehouse Elementary. A car accident left her unable to lift, however, so the head of the program at that time soon asked her to participate. She's been at it ever since.

For Allene Taylor, being a foster grandparent has become a way of life.

"She fusses about it every summer, because she misses it," laughed her daughter.

Although Margaret Taylor has never taught, she was an aide in a special education class for a year and also worked as a school secretary in the past.

Foster Grandparents is a volunteer program, funded by the National Corporation for Community Services, Thompson said.

Men and women age 60 and up go into schools a minimum of 20 hours per week and work with children. In October, the age limit will be lowered to 55. "They are paid a stipend, but it's not taxed," Thompson said.

Foster grandparents have schedules, which can work around existing commitments. The Taylors work 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

When it comes to work, they do "whatever the teacher needs," said Margaret Taylor.

"Grandmother cuts, staples has children read to her, helps children write and do their numbers," Old said of Allene Taylor. "It saves me a lot of time. When she's not here, it puts me behind."

Allene Taylor, who turns 94 next month, is still active in the program. However, she now does more jobs at the desk and has children read to her.

"Somebody asked me the other day when I was going to retire," she said. "I replied 'I'm not going to.'"

It appears her daughter has developed the same commitment and love for the program in the short time she's been involved, since the school year began two weeks ago.

"I think the program is wonderful," said Margaret Taylor. "It's good for the kids, and I'm sure we (foster grandparents) get just as much or more out of it than the kids."

Children say they not only have fun with the foster grandparents, they're helpful, too.

"She helps us find the answers if we don't know them," said second-grader Tara Coatney.

Classmate Joseph Kinsey has a closer relationship with Margaret Taylor than some other students -- they often get paired together for partner work if there is an odd number of students.

"And she's really helpful," he said.

It's good for the teachers, too.

"This gives them more time to spend with the children," said Margaret Taylor.

Before this year, teacher Beth McLemore said she's only had a foster grandparent for half a year. She said she's grateful to have Margaret Taylor this year.

The kids love her," said McLemore.

"It's just such a great help to have an extra person in the room," continued McLemore. "She helps the kids focus and it just takes a big burden off my shoulders. She goes to them when they have questions and I can't get to them."

The Foster Grandparents Program covers Sikeston, East Prairie and Poplar Bluff schools. It also includes monthly in-services and yearly recognition lunches, said Thompson.

For more information, or to volunteer as a foster grandparent, call Thompson at 471-8676.

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