For more than twenty years, students in Bridgeport, Connecticut have had a little something special in their schools: a crew of foster grandparents serving as teachers’ aids. The volunteer program, overseen by the Bridgeport Child and Family Guidance Center, has placed volunteers over the age of 55 in classrooms, paying them a small stipend with allowances for lunch and transport.
“They come in to our classrooms and assist three to five students with help in reading or math or even social problems they may have,” said Amelia Perroni, a first-grade teacher in one of the schools within the program. “They’re an extra pair of hands in the classroom.”
But extra hands no more. The first week of October, the “grandmas” as their charges call them, were told by letter that the funding for their program has been cut, effective immediately. The 83 participants, many of whom have volunteered with the program since its inception, weren’t even given time to say goodbye to their students.
“It’s very sudden,” said Audrey Fernandes, a volunteer for more than half a decade and a retired paraprofessional herself. “‘Pack your stuff and get out.’”
Teachers at the school are furious. The volunteers, who made $2 per hour as a stipend, worked one-on-one with students who desperately needed it.
“They get paid a measly amount of money. We have people in the upper echelons (of the public schools) making big bucks, and we’re cutting a program. It doesn’t make sense,” said Mary Krotki, a fifth grade teacher. “It’s very important for urban kids. It’s another connection some of them don’t have at home.”
Michael Patota, president of the Child and Family Guidance Center and the one who made the decision to cut the program, recognized the contributions of the volunteers in their severance letter, but insists that the bottom line makes the program unsustainable.