Welcome to the first in our series of “A Day in the Life” photo journals documenting the workdays of our staff, and the people we serve.
Kathy Pratt- Foster Grandparent
Giffen Elementary School, Albany NY
Kathy arrives at Giffen elementary for her day as a Foster Grandparent in Mrs. Floss’s 3rd grade classroom. She takes the bus to work as a resident of Albany’s Pine Hills neighborhood, and has an easy walking commute from the stop right on the corner of Pearl Street. Kathy works with Mrs. Floss’s classroom five days a week, and has been with them since this past December. Before that she was a Foster Grandparent at Albany Community Charter School for four years.
By 9:30 most of the students have arrived in the classroom and are eating their breakfasts, or spending a few minutes finishing up homework from the night before. Kathy walks around the classroom, making sure the kids all have pencils and are getting settled in for the day. There are a few students she spends a little extra time with. As part of the Foster Grandparent program Kathy has been given a couple students to connect with and mentor a bit more than the rest of the group. All of the students interact easily with her though, calling her “Grandma,” and coming to her for help with their work.
The students are working on a math sheet on dollars vs. cents. Kathy sits towards the back of the classroom and helps when one of the students comes to her for guidance on his sheet. Even while helping an individual student, Kathy keeps an eye on the classroom and helps reinforce Mrs. Floss’s instructions: gently urging a student to sit down or another student get back to their work. “A second set of eyes always helps,” she says.
The classroom splits up into reading groups at Mrs. Floss’s direction. The purple group finds seats with Mrs. Floss, while Kathy takes the blue group. The subject of today’s reading period is an opinion piece on the portrayal of black femininity in the movie Black Panther. Kathy and her group of five or six students read through the piece, with the students taking turns reading aloud, and Kathy keeping them all on task. One student is having a hard time settling in, and she redirects his attention, asking him a specific question about the article.
The reading assignment has been completed and the classroom moves on to independent reading Scholastic journals. Two students gravitate towards Kathy, and before long she’s helping them take the quizzes in the journals. Around the classroom the other students work in small groups, with a kid or two occasionally coming over to join Kathy or borrow one of her coveted pencils (which she keeps stocked with trips to the dollar store).
The class heads to the cafeteria for lunch, and Kathy stays behind for a minute or two to straighten up. “It’s easier to focus when the space is clean,” she says as she straightens the desks and sweeps a little bit. “These students need that.”
Back from lunch and excited for the day’s gym activity, Kathy helps harness some of the class’s energy. The room is buzzing and everyone is really excited to go swimming. The students will be bussed up to Albany High School to use their pool for gym today. Kathy helps with getting the students transitioned out of the classroom, onto the bus, and into Albany High School. While the kids swim, she snaps a few pictures as they wave and play. It’s a challenge to keep a third grade classroom focused through so many transitions, but having Kathy on hand helps Mrs. Floss.
Back at Giffen, the class settles in for more math work. This time Kathy takes the orange group and helps them navigate their worksheets. A student is acting out: walking around and distracting the other students in her group. Mrs. Floss is deep in concentration with her own group, so Kathy attempts to get the student back on task, by telling her, “You’re too smart to be doing that.”
In the homestretch now, the students are eager to be dismissed for the day. Kathy helps them pack up and make sure they have everything they came with. She makes sure every student takes their homework with them, and helps the group focus on the last task of the day, watching a short video before the dismissal announcement.
Just like that they’re gone, and the classroom is empty. After a little cleaning up, Kathy heads home for the day. “She is a godsend. I don’t know what I did to deserve her. She’s firm and caring; she’s great with the kids. She’s got such a wonderful way with them,” says Mrs. Floss after Kathy has left.
Two Questions for Kathy:
What do you like about being a Foster Grandparent?
“I like to make a small little difference in their lives. A lot of these kids are in transition or struggling with something. I get to know them and offer stability. Some of them are not used to hearing positive things or compliments. I like to give them love and confidence. I care about these kids, and sometimes I’ll see students I had a few years ago, and they’ll run over and give me a hug. They remember that kindness. The more challenging they are, the more I love them. “
What would you want someone who is thinking about being a Foster Grandparent to know?
“Find the age you gravitate towards and wait to be placed with them. Some people like babies, others prefer talking with teenagers. For me, it’s always been grade school. It works best when you’re comfortable with the kids. If it’s a good fit, the kids sense it too. They need some time to get used to you, but once they do it’s great. It’s really rewarding work. “