Originally published in The Weekly Packet, April 18, 2019
‘Granny M’ helps young BHCS students as Foster Grandparent
Marian McMahon, a foster grandparent to Blue Hill Consolidated School's younger students, watches for kindergarteners to arrive for writing class.
by Anne Berleant
A summer visit to Tree of Life food pantry in Blue Hill opened a new door for Marian McMahon when she picked up information on becoming a Foster Grandparent.
“[Program coordinator] Mary-Anne [Saxl] was handing out pamphlets,” McMahon said, sitting outside a Blue Hill Consolidated School kindergarten classroom on a recent morning. “I took it home and read it. By August, I signed on.”
The Foster Grandparent program began nationwide in 1965 through a network of nonprofit organizations. In Maine, the program is operated by Penquis Community Action Program, and places adults of at least 55 years old in classrooms to help students develop the academic and life skills to succeed.
McMahon arrives at BHCS at 7:30 a.m., sharing breakfast time with kindergarteners before they head to their first class. Throughout the morning, she helps the school’s younger children in the classroom, working one-on-one with some students before moving through the classrooms to assist in spelling, writing and library time.
“One of the pluses is I love kids, and I was able to choose my own hours,” McMahon said. The program asks a minimum of 15 hours a week, and offers a stipend for volunteers who meet income eligibility guidelines.
After filling out the application, McMahon underwent a background check and fingerprinting, and then 10 hours of orientation, while Saxl connected with BHCS Principal Shelly Schildroth.
“We are always looking to provide students with mentors, so when this opportunity was presented to me this summer, I was very excited to try it out,” Schildroth said. “The Foster Grandparent Program has been a very bright spot this year.”
By mid-September, McMahon was officially “Granny M.” to the younger BHCS students, a warm, nurturing presence not only in the classrooms but also for their winter concert and field trips. On Valentine’s Day she came home with a bag of cards from the children.
“There’s more beyond the [normal] school schedule,” McMahon said. “And the kids are so spontaneous.”
This April morning, McMahon took her place in Heather Nelson’s kindergarten writing class, working first with one student, then another, and then a third, as they wrote a few lines of a story. She helped guide their hands and find the right words to put down.
For Nelson, having Granny M. in the classroom “is wonderful. [The program] is just like what it sounds like. It’s that extra person to help whoever needs extra help, not just [with] academics but nurturing.”
For McMahon, among the best parts of being “Granny M.” are the hugs, both in school and when a student spots her around town, she said.
“I have had unexpected hugs!” McMahon said. “It’s been more fun than I ever thought.”