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'Fostering' education

Muriel Henderson (left) works with Grace Byers, a fourth-grader at Burnside Elementary, Thursday morning. Byers said since she's been working with Henderson, her reading has improved and she's now reading at her grade level.

Muriel Henderson said being a foster grandparent is one of the most rewarding things she's ever done. And for Grace Byers, a fourth-grader at Burnside Elementary School, working with Henderson has improved not only her grades, but also her confidence.

"(I'm) reading faster than I did," Byers said.

As a foster grandparent, Henderson's main role is working with Burnside students one-on-one to improve their reading skills.

"It's getting them on track," Henderson said. "It's amazing."

Henderson, a retired teacher and college instructor, uses curriculum called Repeated Oral Assisted Reading - or ROAR for short. Since November, Henderson has spent about 15 minutes three times a week with selected students.

The foster grandparent program at Burnside is funded through a government program called Senior Corps. So far, it has provided the school two foster grandparents. And unlike special education programs, there are no restrictions on which students can be helped.

Burnside Principal Sheila Becker said they look at "what kids are in the best possible position to benefit from this right now."

"We're truly matching a child's need with the strategy we have," she said. "It can help anybody because we don't have the restrictions."

Working with Henderson, students first read a short article - ranging in topic from animals to historical figures - out loud by themselves.

Then, with the help of Henderson, they graph how many words per minute they read. Henderson and the student then take turns reading passages out loud and they read it together, taking the time to study the material.

"That's one of the big things," Henderson said. "Having them realize we need to study. Most people can't remember something just once."

Then, the student reads the passage again and graphs their improvement over the first reading.

Seeing that improvement is the key to building confidence, Henderson said.

"You understand that you're not dumb. You just haven't studied," she said.

In turn, having that confidence helps the students in all academic areas, not just reading, Beckner said.

"Confidence builds competence," she said. "You have to believe you can do it."

For Byers, getting extra reading help means that she no longer hides her math homework behind the couch so she doesn't have to do it, she said.

"I didn't like math before, now I do," she said.

And the foster grandparent program is not just about improving grades. The one-on-one time each student gets with their "grandparent" allows them to form relationships.

"We've gotten to be good friends," Henderson said. "You really do feel the warmth that a grandparent feels."

"And you can always use another grandparent," Beckner agreed.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.