The kindergarten classroom at Fiddler's Canyon Elementary School in Cedar City is big and bright, filled with toys and pictures and eager 5-year-olds.
It's an unlikely place to find a chemical engineer. But he's there for an hour twice a week, working one-on-one with the young students.He's one of about 15 volunteer senior citizens who visit the school regularly, according to Principal Steve Baker. They come from all walks of life: homemaker, pianist, teacher's aid, former teacher, pharmacist, electronics instructor, volunteer coordinator. The youngest are in their 60s, the oldest in their 70s. (There's a younger woman who heard about the program and was excited enough to join the senior volunteers.)
"The American Association of Retired Persons brought us the idea and we have a retired woman who coordinates it," Baker said. "We told them a little about the school, then turned them over to teachers. It was as random as could be. We weren't at that point trying to match their education with what they taught. That's how we ended up with a chemical engineer in the kindergarten class."
Next year, the school will try to do a bit more matching of the talents and experiences of the senior volunteers to the curriculum. The program's so successful that Quinton Babcock, AARP assistant state director, said three other schools want to implement it.
"When the seniors came in, they were quite hesitant at first," Baker said. "They were afraid of going into the classroom. I think this experience has even changed some of their attitudes and opinions about schools."
The gift they bring is a gift of time, understanding and maturity, he said. "The maturity and growth have been of real benefit to us. They are like grandparents, and the children love to have them. And they love the children. We have two or three students I considered non-readers and now they are beginning to read. These people have been wonderful."