Foster Grandparents Support Youth Academic Learning

Teacher Helping Male Pupil Studying At Desk In Classroom

At the vibrant Washington Middle School in Seattle's Central District, two special volunteers arrive, not only day in and day out, but year in and year out. Both volunteers are part of the Foster Grandparent Program, a unique intergenerational tutoring and mentoring program that links elders with at-risk youth. The two foster grandparents were matched with Melanie Olson's reading class—five and seven years ago, respectively—and the trio has been working as a team ever since.

"After five years of teaching struggling pre-teen and teenage students, I realized I couldn't meet the needs of all the students myself," said Ms. Olson. "I asked the school volunteer coordinator for some nurturing role models to read with students. Lucky for me, Lucy (name changed) agreed to work twice a week for an hour through the Foster Grandparent Program."


Miss Vicky Garner was recognized for her volunteer work by Larry Nyland, superintendent of Seattle Public Schools.

Walking into their classroom, where the teenage energy is almost palpable, one may be surprised to see middle school students listening attentively to the two soft-spoken grandmothers. On any given day, you'll find Ms. Lucy working side by side with individual students, patiently listening as the student reads the latest teen publication and providing encouragement as the student struggles with new vocabulary words. Ms. Vicky, just across the room, works with a small group of students. She pauses from time to time to discuss the content, confirming that each student comprehends the material.

Because she has this added help, Ms. Olson is able to work with the remaining students, allowing for more individualized attention. "Everyone felt the rewards of working together and more students made academic growth," she says. "It's been seven years since we all bonded and students in our classes are flourishing."  

It's apparent that there is much work to be done, and it's also clear that these volunteers aren't doing this for the recognition and praise. The grandmothers receive a bit of both at school; however, they were also presented with certificates of recognition by the Seattle Public Schools superintendent during a school board meeting last June.

"When Superintendent Larry Nyland visited my classroom, he was so inspired by the work and compassion demonstrated by the grandmothers," said Ms. Olson. At the event, she highlighted the remarkable achievement the team has accomplished, stating that students at the beginning of the year tested several levels below their grade and that at the end of the year—with the assistance of the Foster Grandparent volunteers—they all read at grade level.

Currently, 36 foster grandparents serve in King County, working at 22 different sites. The connection between the elders and youth has made a vital difference for kids who may not have positive role models or grandparents in their life. For elders, the volunteer opportunity provides a means to remain active, healthy, and engaged members in their community.  

Ms. Olson concluded her remarks by saying, "Words cannot express the gratitude I feel to the Foster Grandparent program for providing my students and me the daily gift of these two women … they are my family now."

Contributor Katie Auger coordinates the Foster Grandparent Program hosted at Catholic Community Services. For more information, contact Katie at or 206-328-5925.

grandparents day

Do Something Grand on September 13

September 13, 2015 is National Grandparents Day. If you're an older adult, share your wisdom, perspectives, and key civic values with the young people in your life. If you're younger, reach out and plan an activity with an elder. For ideas, visit Generations United's website.