Nurturing academic skills - Albuquerque Journal

Nurturing academic skills

DEMING — Deming Public Schools is no stranger to the statewide shortage of teachers and the growing number of students per classroom. It has brought a new level of creativity for school districts when it comes to lesson plans and the curriculum in general.

Maria Hernandez, 82, has been a Foster Grandparent in the Deming Public Schools for over 19 years. Here, she is working with two kindergarten students at Bataan Elementary School in Deming. (Bill Armendariz/The Deming Headlight)

The Deming Senior Citizen’s Center has provided an outlet for the school district to help as many students on an individual basis and make sure the learning experience is rewarding and academically sound.

bright spotFoster grandparents are spread throughout the district’s elementary schools. Six are assigned to Columbus Elementary, two each are at Ruben S. Torres and Bataan elementary and there is one assigned to Chaparral Elementary and Deming Head Start.

Alexandra Acosta is the volunteer program director at the senior center and oversees the Foster Grandparent Program. “Having a grandparent is the schools is primarily to give that one-on-one attention some students need,” Acosta said. “We hope that it helps some students emotionally and on the academic side as well.”

Foster grand parents act as role models, mentors and friends to the students. The program provides individuals 55 and over an opportunity to stay active by serving the children in their community.

Maria Hernandez has been involved with the Foster Grandparent Program for over 19 years. She is currently assisting with the dual program kindergarten class at Bataan Elementary.

“I started in the program in 2000 when my husband Tony passed away. It was a way for me to get out of the house and do something productive,” Hernandez, 82, said. “I wanted to talk to somebody else and I got into a habit. I’m still here,” Hernandez chuckled.

She works primarily two girls who are extremely shy. They sat down with her and discussed lesson plans. Both girls told the Headlight they like coloring, numbers and learning new words with Mrs. Hernandez, whom they call “grandma.”

“Mrs. Hernandez enjoys going to class on a daily basis and helping the children succeed to their next grade level,” Acosta said. “The students build confidence working with their foster grandparents and having that close relationship with their grandma gives them the self-esteem and the ability to ask questions if they are struggling with an assignment, knowing the grandparent can help.”

“It gives me great pleasure to see them succeed in the classroom,” Hernandez said. “I watch them grow academically and socially. Each school year I think this might be the year I leave, but the joy the children bring me keeps me here.”

Foster grandparents are assigned to students by the classroom teacher in areas where they think more on-on-one attention is needed. The two students Mrs. Hernandez works with are working toward a mainstream position in the classroom.

Cecilia Price is the classroom teacher for Hernandez’s students which is a dual program class at Bataan — 90 percent Spanish and 10 percent English. The 90 percent is in actual classroom instruction and the 10 percent English comes in specials for art, music, P.E. and library. There are 17 students in the class.

“It is very beneficial to have foster grandparents in the classroom. Every year we choose two students that the foster grandparent helps with. She (Hernandez) helps them feel more comfortable in the classroom and helps them with their homework. She is always trying to make the students feel better and develop social skills and motivates them.

Price also noted that at times Mrs. Hernandez is unable to reach all the students in class and they will reach out to her and say, “Mrs. Hernandez, aren’t you going to call on me.” “They love her,” Price added.

Acosta reminds women and men 55 and over that the senior center is always interested in new foster grandparents joining the program. The program is state-funded and pays a stipend of $2.65 per hour.

There is a background check and screening for each applicant and they must meet an income eligibility requirement. A mileage reimbursement is also paid out. Orientation is provided to new applicants and a monthly in-service training is provided.

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