“Grandpals,” a Princeton Senior Resource Center (PSRC) program directed by Olivian Boon that sends volunteers to read with kindergarteners at Littlebrook and Riverside Elementary Schools in Princeton, is a proven success. The next question was: how would the same program go over in a Trenton elementary school?
The answer appears to be exceedingly well.
“It was actually kind of emotional,” reported Princeton resident Liza Peck, who coordinated the Trenton program. “As gung-ho as everybody was, there was a little bit of apprehension, since Trenton schools are very different than Princeton schools.”
They need not have been concerned. “The kids were warm and welcoming and really affectionate,” said Ms. Peck. By the second week, the 12 senior adult volunteers were greeted with cries of “they’re here, they’re here!”
The once-a-week half-hour to 40-minute sessions took place this last spring in a second grade classroom at the Robbins Elementary School in Trenton. The connection to the school was facilitated by Jane Rohlf-Boyers, a physician at St. Francis Clinic.
“We have been thrilled by this project because both the children and the Grandpals have loved it,” said Ms. Boon.
“I thought it went exceedingly well,” said Grandpal Sallie Meade, who participated in the Princeton program before signing on for Trenton. “The children and the teacher were extremely receptive to the idea. The students were really fantastic. They would choose books that they were interested in. We had lots of nice discussions about books and other interests.” All of the Grandpals participated in an orientation session before the program began.
“It’s a win-win situation,” said Ms. Peck, who has four children in the Princeton public schools. “A lot of the kids in Trenton wanted to read to the Grandpals instead of having the Grandpals read to them, and we let that happen. We said, ‘Hey — that’s fine, too;’ so there was a little bit of both.”
Another boost to the program was a PSRC-based book drive coordinated by Ms. Boon earlier this spring. “The response was tremendous,” said Ms. Peck. “We brought about 300 books down right before the end of the school, and the kids were so unbelievably excited, you would have thought they were boxes of toys.” Hardcover books went to the Robbins School library; paperbacks and early readers were sent to classrooms.
The Trenton program, which relied, for the most part, on car pools from Princeton, will begin again next fall. Consideration is being given to having Grandpals participate in two, back-to-back sessions, and a third grade class may be included this time. The target date is some time in October, to give students and teachers a chance to settle into new classroom routines.
“I don’t know who it was better for in the Trenton program: the kids or the Grandpals,” mused Ms. Peck. “They were unbelievably, instantly receptive and there was an attachment on both parts.”
New volunteers for the Grandpals program are welcome to contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
In Princeton, Grandpals also looks forward to adding Community Park Elementary School to its regular local destinations.