MARINETTE — Students at Park Elementary School are having a different experience when it comes to literacy and reading.
Senior residents from Renaissance Assisted Living go to the school two Fridays a month from 9 to 10 a.m. to have students read to them. Grades alternate month-to-month to work with the senior citizens.
“Most of the ladies have a history of teaching or being helpers at schools,” said Cindy Ahlberg, activities director at Renaissance. “The program has allowed them to still have the feeling of being helpful while having something extra to look forward.”
According to Park Elementary School Principal Mary Kaye Wolf, the program began with the use of the SOAR grant through the state of Wisconsin.
“One of the main points of this grant was to close the gap between special education and regular education in the area of literacy,” Wolf said. “One of our goals is to hold three family-type nights to fulfill that.”
This program was designed with the mindset to help close that gap. Students bring books that they have chosen along to read with the five or six residents that make the trip.
“This is a beautiful opportunity for an elderly person,” said Harriet Demeuse, a resident a Renaissance who is part of the program. “Usually elderly can be tucked away in a corner, we’re not.”
Ruth Karkkainen, another member of the group, explained that the students, “love to see their grandmas.”
“Some of these students don’t have parents of family members that read with them,” Wolf said. “This is one more opportunity to bridge that gap in literacy.”
Group member Joyce Murphy said that she loves to listen to them talk and hear about their lives.
“They’re so sweet,” she said.
Lilian Huss explained that when she listens to the students read or talk with her, the kids feel comfortable talking to the senior residents.
“They’ll tell you anything,” she said. “They let it all out and we absorb what they’re saying.”
“Sometimes it seems like there is a little more talking than reading, but I think that is part of the beauty of the program,” Ahlberg said. “The ladies are always happy to go and feel so blessed when they leave to have had the chance to interact with the students.
“There is a special connection that is made. They are both so accepting of each other. It is so heartwarming to see the smiles on both the residents’ and kids’ faces when they are with each other. It is hard to know who benefits most.”