Education column: Borrowed grandparents boon to school

La Casita recently held a special birthday breakfast celebration. Juanita Chavez, “foster grandmother” turned 80 years old last week, and Principal Sylvia Martinez, along with all the staff at La Casita, decided it was definitely worth making a fuss about.

Juanita, whose six children reside in diverse locations — from Texas, Washington, California, Connecticut, to Mexico — is from Corpus Christi, Texas. She works as a foster grandparent at La Casita Elementary through the Foster Grandparent program and loves it.

“My favorite thing to do is to read with the kids, in both English and Spanish. Everyone treats me so well, like being surprised by the birthday breakfast; they made me cry! It takes a lot of energy to keep up with elementary kids,” Juanita said, “but if you sit around doing nothing, that’s how you grow old.”

Juanita has been working as a foster grandparent for the last 12 years at La Casita, and her husband also serves as a foster grandpa at Lockwood Elementary. In addition to reading, the foster grandparents help out with other classroom activities. It’s clear to see that the kids, as well as all the staff, love their foster grandmas. Also working at La Casita is Magdalena Gallegos, foster grandmother for the last 19 years, who will celebrate her 78th birthday this April. Magdalena’s experience as a mother to 14 children, all now successful adults, serves her well, and she’s “always learning something new” herself. Originally from Anton Chico, she came to Clovis in 1948 and has been living here ever since.

The Foster Grandparent program is part of the Senior Corps, for active seniors who like to be involved, willing to contribute their knowledge, education, and experience. Foster grandparents who help out in the Clovis Municipal Schools can be found at the Arts Academy at Bella Vista, Lockwood, James Bickley, Highland and Parkview elementary schools. The local county program is administered by Kathy Barris, director of “Foster Grandparents.” The county program provides the funding, which covers training for the “grandparents,” a modest stipend, insurance coverage, and assistance with transportation, as needed. Barris, a Clovis native, spent a number of years in California working with community and education programs, and brings considerable expertise to the program.

Martinez stated, “We are so happy to have our ‘grandmas.’ They’re an asset to our school and are just wonderful.” It was heartwarming to be part of the birthday celebrations and to visit with these ladies, so obviously adored. The only thing that did not seem quite right, however, was the reported ages of the “grandmas.” Neither looked anywhere near the age they told me; maybe that comes from leading active, vibrant, involved lives.

These two ladies decidedly epitomize a quote from Clint Eastwood, “As we grow older, we must discipline ourselves to continue expanding, broadening, learning, keeping our minds active and open.”

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the instructional technology xoordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at cindy.kleyn-kennedy@clovis-schools.org