The Cooperative Educational Services Agency (CESA) #10 Foster Grandparent Program is a group of senior citizens who volunteer to work on a consistent basis in the school setting, four hours a day, five days a week with children who have special educational needs or are academically challenged.
In 1969, the federal government enacted the Older American Act, which changed the Foster Grandparents from wage earners to recipients of an hourly, tax-free stipend to defray the cost of their volunteer work. The Chippewa Falls Foster Grandparent project began as a pilot project on August 23, 1985. The initial appropriation was sufficient to hire five Foster Grandparents to serve at Northern Center. The sponsorship changed to CESA #10 in 1987. This also changed the focus of the services provided by the Foster Grandparents to public education.
The CESA #10 Foster Grandparent program impacts three separate and distinct communities. They affect the schools, students, and the foster grandparents. In the school, the result of having Foster Grandparents is being able to manage class sizes more effectively. The school delegates to the Foster Grandparents those students who need one-on-one attention because of special needs. The students in all areas today need one-on-one attention more than ever. Educational reports indicate that special attention given by the Foster Grandparents enhances the individual student’s success rate, critical thinking and problem solving skills.
The Foster Grandparents are impacted, also. They come to the program with social, personal, and financial needs. Monthly in-services provide social opportunities and training to enhance their existing communication and observation skills in the classroom. Daily student contact and respect from professional staff members plus the love and attention from students, strengthens emotional well-being of the Foster Grandparent. The importance placed on their volunteer assignment gives the Foster Grandparent a feeling of being needed and useful to society.
This program builds bridges that link several communities that would otherwise be isolated. The intergenerational contact benefits both the children and the adults. The low-income senior, by age, income, and physical limitations, are usually insulated from contact with today’s youth. Many of the students and some adults accept those students with special educational needs with skepticism. The presence of the Foster Grandparent in the classroom and their relationship with these special needs students help dissolve these historic barriers. Also some families of the Foster Grandparents are not actively involved in their lives and do not understand their loneliness and exclusion.
The CESA #10 Foster Grandparent program has served the schools for 12 years. During this time, they have volunteered over 519,840 hours. These hours represent quality time with children who may otherwise “fall through the cracks.”