There is a gang of OGs in Trenton, NC. The members come to the school everyday, and their presence in Pre-K through 2nd grade classrooms speaks volumes, often nonverbally. These Original Grandmas (OGs) use a series of nonverbal cues to communicate expectations. Just a look, a turn of the hand, or a wink of an eye can keep students focused, on task, and more conscious of social and academic expectations. The OGs’ consistent daily presence communicates the importance of education, active participation, and collaborative cooperation in learning processes.
The Foster Grandparent Program is by no means new, and many school districts in North Carolina are seeking the assistance of seniors. Touted for its benefit to seniors, volunteerism promises longer life, new experiences, new discoveries, and new friends.
As if testament to such claims, 86-year-old Grandma Verna Smith, pictured above, has been a positive fixture in the Pre-Kindergatern classroom for the last twelve years. Smith wakes up every morning with one goal in mind: going to school. With her counterpart Pre-K teacher Polly Whitehead considering retirement at the end of this academic year, Grandma Smith remains undecided if she will hang up her hat as well. Whatever her decision, Smith has demonstrated the value of education to countless others through her longstanding and daily commitment in just showing up.
“She’s my teacher assistant. No, she is,” second grade teacher Verna Johnson asserts as she describes Grandma Maxine Malone.
“Students listen to her, ” Johnson continues. ” I listen to her. I ask her advice. She has great ideas. She is a part of this classroom. She knows everything going in here, and she keeps me and the students on track.” These OGs are not just building relationships with students. Their bond with other adults is critical to instructional processes, and their daily presence symbolizes a trusted alliance.
As if speaking the sentiment of all the OGs, Grandma Hannah Gray indicates they just love the experience! Being in classrooms makes their lives meaningful and purposeful inside and outside of the school building.
Grandma Mary Willie, whose volunteerism is turning about eight years old, explains that children will nearly break their necks to get to them when they are spied in the community:
“They run to us when they see us out. They say, ‘There’s Grandma!‘ The people with them may say ‘That ain’t really your Grandma.’ But I am. I feel like I am. I’m with them everyday.”
Grandma Queenie Powell was busy preparing instructional materials but finally relented to having her picture taken. Intent on the task at hand and seeking little recognition, Grandma Queenie is the stunning image of a phenomenal woman, whose wisdom and character fuel her commitment to facilitate effective and nurturing learning environments.
Grandma Jessie McDaniel stands as a testament to the Foster Grandparents Program, which holds consistent data that such volunteerism results in positive school climate for teachers and students. Matthew Houghton, a New England principal who has had a similar program in his school, says constant and regular senior volunteerism increases student attendance and student achievement while influencing positive social skills (Houghton, 2012).
Grandma Idella McDaniel, a retired school teacher, sits erect in a first grade classroom, head held high. She watches everything. Her eyes are quick, kind, and serious. She speaks without ever saying a word. Everything about her communicates to others everything they need to know: Today is important. Do your part well.
There is something quite unique about the of OGs of Trenton, NC–something amazingly empowering about all these elderly African-American women, modeling expectations for learning and living and being. Their life experiences are laced and long like coarse silver hairs. In the deep of their eyes, there is light, and it shines of wisdom. Their pride is in their posture, and the courage of their years marches into the building with them–even with a cane. Their voices are the soulful sounds of timeless wind, and their presence fills the expanse of all available space. They are OGs.
Known affectionally as the Grandmas at Trenton Elementary School, references to them here, however, as OGs are heartfelt attempts to convey the utmost respect. The abbreviation OG, known to stand for original gangster, has now become such a commonplace metonymy that that its original slangish meaning no longer resembles itself but draws a broad stroke, brushing any person exhibiting original, longstanding beliefs, values, and commitments to particular ideals despite any slings of time as an OG. In addition to the residual wisdom you may gain from an OG, the all-inclusive fringe benefit of being in the presence of an OG rests in the fact that you are in the very presence of one. OGs force you to step up your game and come correct. When an OG is present, you muster up the highest levels of your own dignity, integrity, and pride just to pay an OG the proper respect due. Being continually in the presence of an OG can propel you to advance efforts and expend energy toward particular ideals. OGs foster the fortuitous confidence that anything is possible! For what, indeed, can you not accomplish when an OG has your back? #StoriesofIMPACT