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Classroom grandma has a special touch but faces uncertain future

86-year-old Madonna Schafers faces an uncertain future

Staff writer

Madonna Schafers of Marion has been in the federal Foster Grandparent Program for six years. She worked in Head Start and kindergarten at Newton for two years, and spent the past four years in the first-grade classroom at Marion Elementary School.

She is not sure that she will be returning to the classroom this year. She said she may be reassigned and does not know if she will accept a new place.

Schafers was living in Newton six years ago when she was asked to apply for a job at Newton Senior Center. She was not looking for a job and did not understand what position they were looking for.

She discovered she had filled out an application form to become a “foster grandparent.” The federal Foster Grandparent Program allows senior citizens to assist in school classrooms. It pays a stipend and lunch.

Madonna was suited for the job. She came from a family of 12 children and raised 13 children, eight of her own and five nieces and nephews. She loved children and loved having a large family.

When she started in Newton, she was assigned to sit with a child who was being carried into the classroom every day and lay unmoving in a fetal position.

She began talking and asking questions, drawing out of him his desire to be a basketball player. She let him know he would never fulfill his dream lying around like that. She got him to sit up, and before long, he was sitting on a chair with the rest of the students.

Another child was hyperactive. His mother said he never took a nap. When the other students laid down for their nap, Madonna sat with him, talking soothingly and massaging his back. He soon fell asleep, and after that, it was no longer a problem.

Madonna later received a letter from his mother.

“You’re the best thing that’s come into my son’s life,” she wrote.

When Christmas came around, Madonna received a present labeled “Grandma” for twelve straight days. The presents were from the staff.

When she quit, one staff member said, “If we can’t find another Grandma like you, we won’t have one.”

She said she has been back to visit, and they told her they haven’t found one.

Sometimes, when a class gets unruly, she asks to talk to them, and they settle down, she said.

One day, a little girl turned in a paper that got a perfect grade. When she got a new assignment, she couldn’t do it.

“Does your mother help you, or does she tell you the answers?” Madonna asked.

“She tells me the answers,” the girl said.

Madonna instructed her to tell her mother to let her do the work and then check it for any wrong answers. She said the child did as instructed and came back the next day proclaiming proudly that she had done it “all by myself.”

Another child turned in a paper and said, “It should be right because my daddy did it.”

Madonna tried to help a student with his math.

“I don’t need your help,” he said.

“Well, I’ll just leave then,” she said.

She picked up her purse to go, and when he saw she was serious, he acknowledged he needed some help. The next day he came back with a perfect math paper.

“It’s those kind of things that make you want to get up and go to school,” she said.

During the summer months, Madonna earns money from the program by reading assigned books about various childhood diseases. She attends training sessions and serves on the FGP council.

Being on a fixed income, the money she earns on the job allows her to do things that she otherwise could not do.

A spokesperson for the Butler County Department on Aging, which sponsors the program in this area, said foster grandparents have various options for service, such as day care and Head Start, and Madonna’s future role has not yet been decided.

Madonna hopes to find out in the next few weeks whether she will go back into the classroom. If she is reassigned, she can decide whether or not to accept it.

“If I don’t work, I’ll have to pay more attention to how I spend my money,” she said. “I’ll miss the kids but I’ll go and see them once in a while.”

Last modified Aug. 27, 2015

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