Jocelyn Brett, foster grandparent

Foster grandparent Jocelyn Brett “grandma Jo-Jo” works with fourth-grader DaMont Sitton with his English and reading comprehension on Thursday in Mrs. Laura Swank’s classroom as part of the Cambria County Area Agency on Aging’s Foster Grandparent Program at Devine Mercy Catholic Academy’s East campus.

You don't have to be a grandparent to take park in this program, all you need is a love for children.

Volunteers with the Cambria County Area Agency on Aging's Foster Grandparent program are offering their time and support with children in 40 area schools.

On Thursday, foster grandparents Jocelyn Brett and Janet Wise were spending their day with students in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade at Divine Mercy Catholic Academy's East campus giving time to those who need academic and emotional support.

"We're so excited about having 72 volunteers here in Cambria County in private and public schools, daycares and Head Starts," said Amanda Milne, director of the Foster Grandparent program. "They are working with students who need a little extra love, encouragement and support throughout their day."

She said the foster grandparents work one-on-one with students who have exceptional or special needs.

"They are mentors, friends and encouragers and they work academically but socially as well," Milne said. "They offer that extra support throughout the day to some of these students who may fall between the cracks or are considered at risk. When you have a classroom that has 30 students to one teacher, it's good to have extra hands."

The program is set up where a school's principal speaks with teachers to determine who needs extra classroom support. The teacher than decides which students need to work with the foster grandparent.

"They build a relationship and they get to see the child grow from the beginning to the end of the year," Milne said. "They're helping with school work, helping them focus and walking them around the school if they need to calm down, they're doing all of the stuff the teacher doesn't have that extra time to do."

The program has been at DMCA's East campus for two years, and associate Principal Mary Jo Podratsky said its a welcomed addition at the school.

"It helps us implement our individual student growth goals, and they're working with students one-on-one to bring up reading and math skills and they develop a trusting relationship," she said. "The students react very positively to this and the foster grandparents become part of the climate in the classroom. It's positive and nurturing and the children look forward to them in the classroom."

Brett, a teacher who retired from Bishop McCort Catholic High school in 2013, said she got involved with the Foster Grandparent program last year.

"I needed to feel useful and I love teaching," she said. "I felt like I need to do something."

Brett said the program is wonderful and one she would recommend to others looking to work with children.

"It's so rewarding and you feel loved and needed; if you're a nurturing person like I am then I would say do it," she said.

Those interested in being a foster grandparent need to be 55 years of age and complete a training program.

The next Foster Grandparent training session will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 17 at Central Park Plaza in downtown Johnstown.

For more information, call Milne at the Cambria County Area Agency at 814-536-9009.

Kelly Urban is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. She can be reached at (814) 532-5073. Follow her on Twitter @KellyUrban25.

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