Ruth Teboe, Mari Owens and Dorothy Schwerzler have each earned the right to be called grandma by virtue of having grandchildren.
But in recent years they have also come to be called grandma in Princeton Public School classrooms through their volunteer work in the Foster Grandparent program. (Erma Peterson is also a local foster grandmother but is on medical leave and couldn’t be reached to get facts on her for this story.)
The Foster Grandparent program is one of three programs for persons age 55 and older under Senior Corps, a national organization. Senior Corps puts to use the talents, expertise and life experiences of senior citizens to help in the community, at the same time enriching lives of these senior volunteers.
Foster grandparents receive a stipend to work 15 to 40 hours per week at a nonprofit site, most commonly in schools to mentor, support and help children and youth with exceptional needs, according to its website. The St. Cloud Catholic Diocese is the sponsoring organization to distribute funds for the program in the area including Princeton.
Pat Braun, Foster Grandparent program area supervisor, says that applications are being taken if anyone else in the area is interested and they can call 612-390-0617 for more information. Braun adds that the stipend of $2.65 per hour and some mileage reimbursement helps senior citizens continue to live independently.
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Teboe and Owens help third grade instructors at North Elementary with one-on-one or small-group remedial instruction in reading or math and also help keep students on task. Schwerzler and Peterson do much of the same work as Teboe and Owens, but they work with some kindergarten and first grade students at South Elementary.
The Union-Eagle was able to talk with Teboe, Owens and Schwerzler in the schools last week.
Teboe, 85, is in her 10th year as a foster grandma. She started after Owens asked Teboe if she might be interested in being in the program, Teboe tried it and decided it was important for her. Teboe last week talked about her work of helping students with reading and math, including helping with the testing of reading in a computer lab at North.
“Oh, I enjoy working with children and I feel like I’m accomplishing something,” Teboe said. “Sometimes I see the lights go on when they (the students) finally get something (in a lesson).”
Teboe has one memorable story from working as a foster grandmother. It was the time an instructor was teaching about the sinking of the Titanic passenger liner in 1912, and one of the children asked Teboe if she had been on the Titanic. (Teboe had not been born at the time of the Titanic disaster.)
Third grade instructor Laurie Nesius, whose classroom Teboe has been working in lately, said that “Grandma Ruth (Teboe) is a tremendous help.” Besides helping with the remedial instruction and keeping kids on tasks, Nesius said, Teboe has been a “real positive influence, giving a little kindness and encouragement… She does a great job. They (the students) all want to work with her, and have to take turns. We try to make sure each child gets to work with her at least once a week or twice a week.”
Owens, 71, has been a foster grandma for 10 years. She had read about the opportunity in a newspaper and decided she would like to try it, since she was retired and had the time.
Owens has usually worked with third graders as a foster grandma. From that experience, she said, she has found it a “miracle” how much the third graders have grown and increased their academic skills between the start and end of their school year. “I call them a new batch every year,” Owens said of the new class she meets each September.
Being a foster grandma is enjoyable, Owens said, commenting that each child “has their own personality.” Beside that, Owens said, there is the stipend and the free school lunch.
Owens’ memorable story was the time a boy was preparing to read for her when he declared that his stomach wasn’t feeling very good. Owens asked if he had eaten breakfast and the boy answered, no, that he had thrown up at home. Owens then told him he could throw up on the hallway floor if he needed to, and he threw up. “I got a sinus infection after that,” Owens recalled.
Schwerzler’s students have either been in the kindergarten or first grade. Last Thursday morning she was working with kindergarten students in Talley Blazevic’s classroom, taking them one by one to a little desk up against a wall in the hallway.
Schwerzler, who is in her eighth year as a foster grandmother, had seen an ad about a foster grandparent position and decided she might as well try it since she “wasn’t doing anything that constructive” at the time. Also, added Schwerzler, who has seven children, 21 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren, “I love kids.”
What she has mainly gotten from the program, she said, is “the feeling I’m helping someone and I feel (some) kids need someone extra in their life to look up to, like an older person or grandmother. A lot of them don’t have grandparents or they are not close by.
“I visit a lot (with the kids in the classroom). They need the social part.”
Schwerzler, remembered how children in Teboe’s classroom had misjudged Teboe as being much older than in reality. Schwerzler said that it is common for children in the early elementary years to significantly misjudge age. Sometimes they will think someone is much older than they are, or much younger, she said. She noted that some kids might have guessed that Schwerzler, who is 82, was 100.
Schwerzler said she can relate to children well because of having so many grandchildren, and she too has enjoyed seeing elementary children learn so much in one school year. “It’s amazing what the little extras (in remedial teaching) can do for them.
“I can’t imagine not doing this. I look forward to it. It makes my day.”