By Ian Croft
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
To help boost literacy, Dr. Hamman School is trying out a new program called Grand Pals.
Christopher Ward, Grade 5 teacher and vice-principal of Dr. Hamman School, provided a rundown of this new program.
“Grand Pals is an opportunity for people who are retired to come in and volunteer in our school with our students primarily in literacy activities — meaning that they read with the children or they play some literacy games with the children to help them learn their words, to help them develop their reading skills,” said Ward. “I don’t know where the idea came from but I know it’s been done in other schools, and I suppose that the thought behind it is that saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ It’s just looking for opportunities to get the community involved in our school, and to have our school connect more with the community. Just an idea I had, wouldn’t it be nice to have senior citizens come in and work with kids, because not all the children have a grand parents that they can read to, not all the children have grandparents are close by. These kind of adopted Grand Pals come in and read with the children or the children read to them.”
Ward further discuss how this program has been successful on all three fronts when it comes to students, teachers, and the Grand Pals.
“I think it’s very successful. As a teacher for me to have some of my children go out and read to their Grand Pal, because they give the children one-on-one time with an adult, and children really benefit from good quality one-on-one time. I think the grandparents are enjoying it from what I’ve seen so far and the feedback that I’m getting from the children (is) they’re enjoying it. It’s a win-win-win. Teachers are benefitted. The children are enjoying it, and they’re benefitting, and I think the Grand Pals are enjoying it, and benefitting from it. We have three retired teachers, so they get a chance to come back into schools and just be with the children as long as they want or as little as they want and just enjoy being with kids really.”
Following the general overview of the program Ward also went into detail of how it’s actually being put into practice within the school.
“Just started it up this year and it’s still early days,” said Ward. “We still have room for more people to come if they want to get involved but it’s going quite well. In my own class I probably would have three or four of my students working with a Grand Pal. Other classes it may depend. Some of the Grand Pals take small groups out and play games with them, with the younger grades I’ve seen that happen. One of the Grade 1 classes’ (Grand Pal) is taking a small group out and playing some literacy games with them. We have eight Grand Pals right now so we have almost one per class.”
Ward then discussed what Grand Pals would need to be able to provide if someone was interested in volunteering as one, and how people can get in contact with the school if they want to be a Grand Pal.
“(They) can contact the school at (403) 223-2988 and our secretary will explain to them that they will need to come down to school and fill out a volunteer approval form for the school division, and then tell us a little bit about themselves, what they feel comfortable doing with children. You know, are they comfortable having children read to them? Are they comfortable reading to children? Are they comfortable working with 10-year-olds or would they rather work with five and six years olds? Then we’ll try and do our best to pair them up. What we do is we pair them with a teacher/pair of them with a class so that’s who they come to each time. Each Grand Pal has been assigned to a class, that way that connection can happen, rather than a Grand Pal coming to a different class every time where you don’t quite get the familiarity of working with a group of children more than once. We do assign them to a class so they can build up a connection, a familiarity, and have a Grand Pal child relationship.”
Ward also discussed the future of this program.
“It’s still early days but I think it’s been a success,” said Ward. “I would like us to have a few more Grand Pals, but you can get too much of a good thing. I want to make sure that we do you have the right balance, the right balance that helps teachers that is meaningful and enjoyable for children, and not too demanding, draining, or taxing on our Grand Pals. So that everyone is happy, just finding that sweet spot where everyone is benefitting from it. I think we still have room to grow. I think we can still have more Grand Pals coming, but I don’t know exactly where that limit is.”
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