Joan Wilder: Journalist, Writer, Editor

Youngsters and seniors team up

HULL – Matt Daniels, 9, seems as though he couldn’t be happier, sitting next to his writing tutor, Joan Humphreys, in the cafeteria of Jacobs Elementary School.

Daniels and Humphreys have been working together nearly every Tuesday and Friday morning for a year as part of the Handwriting Tutorial program.

Ten of the 23 regular senior citizen tutors are working either one on one, or with small groups of children on this late spring morning.

As occupational therapist Karen Arakawa oversees the tutor/ student teams, it’s hard to focus on anything but the love flowing between Daniels and Humphreys, whom he calls his Baba. “I love writing cursive, it’s easier than printing,” said Daniels as Humphreys helps him over the occasional stumble.

“She taught me to write cursive. Do you like her hair?” he wants to know.

“I just changed my hair and Matt loves it,” explains Humphreys, a retired schoolteacher.

The program was founded by Sandie Grauds, outreach coordinator at the Hull Council on Aging. She said the program began three years ago with four senior citizen tutors and has grown each year.

Tutors help Jacobs School first through fourth graders develop better writing skills by completing various work sheets and assignments.

During the last part of every 30-minute session, Arakawa leads the group in a number of exercises using therapeutic putty and exercise bands to increase motor skills.

Arakawa also leads them in making the sign language alphabet with their hands, guiding them through it with a singsong dialogue that helps them remember each letter.

Arakawa’s verbal delivery is laced with phrases that reinforce a message of self-esteem to the students. She believes that the program benefits both tutors and students.

“I guess you could call it a wellness program,” said Arakawa, who works part-time as an occupational therapist in the Hull school system.

“The teachers have said they can’t believe the improvement in the students, and having something to do for the seniors makes them feel better, too.”

The benefits are both physical and emotional.

“Lots of the seniors who have stiff fingers get benefit from the hand exercises,” said Grauds.

“But, the relationships they form are truly remarkable. There is such a sense of excitement between the seniors and the children. To the children, these older adults are celebrities.”

Late last year, Grauds received a grant from the Executive Office of Elder Affairs to create a second tutoring program, this time in reading. Twenty-nine seniors attended a three-day Department of Education training last November to prepare.

In January, the Literacy Program began at both the Jacobs School and the primary level of the South Shore Charter School.

According to Grauds, the Literacy Tutorial is just as successful as the writing program.
Both have been so successful, in fact, that Grauds receives calls from other towns who want her help developing similar programs.

“The literacy tutors work with the children on reading, and also talk with them about other subjects they may be better at which builds self-esteem,” said Ted Hirsch, a teacher at the Charter School.
According to Hirsch, teachers and students develop incredible bonds. “One kid’s mother says he talks about nothing else.”

The Writing Tutorial takes place every Tuesday and Friday morning at the Jacobs School. The literacy tutors schedule their time with students throughout the week on an individual basis.

Each volunteers for one to three sessions a week. Although 95 percent of the tutors are senior citizens, the program is not limited by age.

Literacy tutor Liz Rossetti, 55, works on literacy with kindergartners at Jacobs School once a week.
“One word of encouragement brings out their self-esteem,” said Rossetti. “They get so excited they want to do better.”

Many of the literacy tutors split their time with students between reading to them, and listening to them read.

This fall, Grauds plans another literacy training session for volunteers.
In addition to the senior citizens, Grauds hopes to expand the program and include high school seniors as tutors.

“That will create a really intergenerational program that ought to be great,” said Grauds.

“Sandy has put this all together,” said Humphreys. “I can’t believe she can coordinate all the volunteers.”

Humphreys said the program has added enormously to the volunteers’ lives.

“I don’t want to graduate from here,” said Matt Daniels, looking at Humphreys. “I love doing all the cursive, and I don’t want to graduate because of her.”

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