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Foster grandparents to play large role in Syracuse classrooms

Ellen Abbott
Foster grandparent Jean Rand says older adults have a way of connecting with children that isn't seen as threatening.

The Foster Grandparents program in the Syracuse City School District is growing. The expansion of a popular program means more support at a time when it’s needed most.

Jean Rand of Syracuse has been a foster grandparent for three and a half years in a Meacham Elementary second grade classroom. Her presence comes in handy, whether it’s helping someone with math problems or offering a hug during an emotional meltdown.

"My teacher is in there by himself with 26 kids," Rand said. "That’s a lot of kids. That’s a lot of little critters running around at seven years old, and some aren’t as well behaved as they should be."

Thanks to a federal grant made possible through the Corporation for National and Community Service, there will be more foster grandparents like her in city schools. Syracuse will become the only school district in the country to have these helpers in every first and second grade classroom.

Superintendent Sharon Contreras is a fan of using these older adults in classrooms.

"They have been so helpful in building not only an academic foundation for these students, but really helping them in social, emotional learning," Contreras said. "And just being nurturing and loving. And they have been a great support to our teachers as well.”

Contreras says foster grandparents can also help students get used to being in a new environment.

“First and second graders still have a difficult time adjusting to school," Contreras explained. "Still have a difficult time when they have minor crises in the classroom, and they often want their parents and their parents are working, and the grandparents can soothe them in ways that are just remarkable."

Rand agrees, saying being older helps them reach kids.

“Being older, we’re wiser, calmer and not as threatening to the children," Rand said. "And I do have a lot of experience with kids, as most older people have and know how to get them to open up and feel comfortable with you."

This expansion of the program will put 131 volunteers in classrooms.