MARSHALL - Everyone knows how much of a positive impact grandparents can have on their grandchildren's lives, but a first-year "Grandma" program at Holy Redeemer School goes one step further, allowing students the opportunity to get special grandmotherly-type treatment while at school.
While HRS "grandmothers" Joan Halverson and Dorothy Vandendriessche don't necessarily hand out the usual hugs and kisses during the school day, they do offer the students quality, hands-on assistance in and out of their classrooms.
"We have the best of both worlds because all we have to do is spend time with the children," Halverson said. "We can't discipline, so we have no issues with them."
Photos by Jenny Kirk
Marshall residents Joan Halverson, left, and Dorothy Vandendriessche are part of a first-year “Grandma” program at Holy Redeemer School, where the students receive extra assistance either in the classroom or just outside the classroom.
Having been in retirement for 12 years, Halverson said she was looking for more meaningful ways to spend her time when the job opportunity arose. She admits enjoying her new role in the school system.
"One of the reasons why I even started thinking about doing this was because I have no grandchildren around here, and I really miss that," she said. "These little ones just kind of worm their way into your heart and there you are."
Recently, Halverson said that she experienced a really heartwarming encounter with one of the students from HRS.
"Saturday night, we went out for dinner and as we were walking through the restaurant, this little girl yelled 'Grandma Joan.' She introduced me to her family and it was just so sweet. My daughters were with me, and they were laughing. They said 'Grandma Joan?' But it was nice," she said.
Vandendriessche said that she has had similar experiences with students outside of school.
"A couple times, I too in public, have had someone come up and give me a hug," Vandendriessche said. "It's just recognition, but it's very nice. I thoroughly enjoy working with students."
The "Grandma" program also seemed to be a perfect fit for Vandendriessche, who recently retired after spending many years as a special education paraprofessional in Marshall.
"This is just a natural extension of that in my retirement years because I just retired this summer," she said. "I love it thoroughly."
Vandendriessche said she begins her day by spending a half-hour reading with the second-grade class, followed by time spent with the first-graders.
"Sometimes it's helping them correct papers or reviewing something that they need, reading with them," she said. "Then, I spend more time with some second- graders. We've worked on their prayers and other things."
The rest of day is spent mainly with fourth-grade and sixth-grade math.
"The greater part of our time is working one-on-one, usually in the hall so we're not distracting the classroom and the classroom isn't distracting them," Vandendriessche said. "But on occasion, we do work with the classroom at large, helping the teacher in the classroom. I do go into the classroom, particularly in the math classes."
Halverson said she follows a schedule, although the days do fluctuate somewhat.
"Until noon, it's always the same, but in the afternoon, that's when the variation occurs," she said. "I start out in the morning with my first class. Then I'm available for the second period for anybody who needs to come in, for extra study or whatever. After lunch, I go to my regular schedule. Sometimes, I have like four grades in the afternoon, where I just help children with their spelling, math, whatever."
For the most part, Halverson said she works with the kindergarten through fourth-grade students.
"It's not a get rich thing because they don't pay a lot, but it's something for you to do," she said. "And the interaction with other people and the children, it's great. I just can't say enough good about it."
On the flip side, it's also obvious that the students have come to know, and perhaps even love, the two "grandmas" since the teacher figures began in August.
"I really like it because they're really nice and helpful," HRS third-grader Dylan Kack said. "They have us read stories from a page and then there are four questions on the back that you have to answer."
One by one, the third-graders took turns coming out into the hallway Tuesday afternoon to meet with Halverson.
"They're nice," third-grader Evan Franson said. "They give us good stories. We get to read the stories to them."
While there will always be students who need extra intervention to get or keep their academic skills up to par, the "grandmas" and the teachers thought long and hard about how avoid having students feel like they were being singled out.
"In the beginning, we had kind of thought we'd work just specifically with kids that were pulled from the classroom, but then we all decided, jointly, that doing that would make them stand out and we didn't want to do that," Halverson said. "So now, I pretty much have the whole class come out most of the time for different studies."
While it's too early to expect much feedback yet, Halverson believes the "Grandma" program has been making a difference.
"I can just sense in the different students, how they are advancing, like something we studied last week, they're carrying that over into this week," she said. "I'm pleased with that."
Vandendriessche said she also sees improvement.
"It's heartwarming to see it," she said. "It's coincided with what is going on in the classroom, so lot of it for us, is just reinforcement of what they've learned in the classroom, maybe they need just a little better understanding of what has been presented and taught."
Since August, Vandendriessche said she has also come to find HRS as a "very warm and respectful place." One of the best parts, she said, was helping teach the kids to learn to be responsible for their choices and actions.
Halverson agreed, pointing out that HRS also supplied the students with a well-disciplined environment where learning could take place.
"Everything is a learning experience," she said. "They're great kids."