Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 37
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
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GrandPals Program Pairs Kindergartners With Reading Buddies of a Certain Age

Anne Levin

For volunteers in the Princeton Senior Resource Center’s (PSRC) “GrandPals” program, there can be that moment when everything comes together. One of the kindergarten students they have been reading to just might make the transition from listener to participant, and begin reading aloud.

It doesn’t always happen. But it is rewarding when it does. “It’s a wonderful thing, to see them get so excited about the fact that they can read themselves,” says Sallie Meade, one of a group of volunteers who visit Littlebrook and Riverside elementary schools for weekly, inter-generational reading sessions in the school libraries. The GrandPals program is designed not to teach children how to read, but to provide a warm, encouraging atmosphere as they learn how to read.

The program was started 11 years ago by Muriel Lewis at Littlebrook School. Volunteers from all over the Princeton area are paired with one, two, or three kindergarten students for half-hour reading sessions. Some, like Ms. Meade, a younger-than-she-looks 68-year-old great-grandmother, spread a blanket on the floor to sit with the children. Others might settle into a rocking chair.

“It’s a joy. You’re dealing with evolving personalities,” says Honey Rosenberg, an energetic 84-year-old former teacher and daycare center director who has 12 grandchildren. “And there’s a little bit of ego involved, because you’re helping them, and that makes you feel good about yourself.”

About 50 children are currently paired with a GrandPal, says Olivian Boon, GrandPal Director for PSRC. “For some of the older people, whose grandchildren live miles away or who don’t have grandchildren of their own, it can be very fulfilling,” she says. “And some of the kids, especially those who are from foreign countries, might not have their grandparents close by.”

The school librarians choose books for the Grandpals to consider. During the course of the year, children start picking out the books they’d like to read. “As they get to know the kids, the librarians are wonderful about guiding the GrandPals to topics that they know particular children will be interested in,” Ms. Boon says. A child from a foreign country might be paired with a senior who speaks the language of that country. Parents might get to know the GrandPal working with their child. One family has requested the same one for all three children.

In addition to the Littlebrook and Riverside programs, GrandPals also sends two volunteers to Community Park School to help children with math and other subjects. Ms. Boon hopes to add that school to the reading program schedule in the future.

Some of the GrandPals are former teachers. Others simply love children. “It’s all up to the GrandPal how he or she likes to do it,” Ms. Boon says. “Many of the children are learning to read by the middle of the year, and they begin to read to their GrandPal.”

Ms. Boon goes to each session and watches the program in action. “At the beginning of the year, the kids don’t know what’s going to happen,” she says. “Then they start reading the books. What they find is that this is a nice, quiet time where they can ask all the questions they want and talk about anything that’s on their mind. Over the course of the year, they get to know each other rather well. By the end of the year, there’s a hum of activity in the room. It is just lovely to see.”

The orientation for new volunteers will be held Wednesday, September 21 at 1:30 p.m. in the Suzanne Patterson Building, 45 Stockton Street behind Borough Hall. Small group discussions will be led by experienced GrandPals. Refreshments will be served. Call Olivian Boon at (609) 921-7108 to register.

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