Millions of students and teachers, across the US, will return to classrooms after the respite of the Christmas holidays, and refreshers in reading, writing, history, and math will be required in the welcome back routine. Every classroom teacher appreciates any helping hand, and a very special group of grandmothers, at the Excel public school in Washington DC, extend hands, hearts, encouragement, and attention to students every day.

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More than giving teachers the time to teach and invest one-on-one attention, the foster grandparent collaboration program gives children the assurance and reason to study and succeed.

Three of the six grandparents at the school were featured in a “CBS This Morning” segment, “A More Perfect Union,” on December 31, and the grandmas clearly sense the benefits of their presence and purpose in students’ lives, beyond any lesson plan or score on a test.

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A positive presence

From celebrities to cops on the beat in every community, countless people relate how their lives were changed by a caring grandmother or grandfather. In many instances, grandparents stepped in and raised children in situations which precluded parents from fulfilling that role. Most often, grandparents guide and aid both parents and children in providing a stable home. With families divided by necessities of location and economics, more and more children are growing up without the influence of grandparents at all.

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The foster grandmas in the Excel Academy classrooms may resemble Walmart greeters in blue aprons, and they definitely start the day with spirit for every child, but their hugs with open arms and their constant support through the school day are invaluable gifts.

Children often are overwhelmed in describing their bonds with the foster grandparents, but their faces speak everything. “She's funny and she makes every problem funny,” one girl tells correspondent, Jan Crawford of Margie Dixon.

Another adds, “She's sweet and she hugs us,” but Principal, Tania Pritchard, elaborates on the power of seeing these wise, loving elders in the community. “They see our younger girls at the store and on the buses,” and that embeds a deep relationship beyond the hours of the school day. Pritchard would love to have a foster grandma in every classroom, but funding will not permit fulfilling that dream right now.

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The Corporation for National and Community Service coordinates with Foster Grandparents in all fifty states to match community needs to the services of the enlisted grandparents. The DC program is open to seniors with incomes less than twice the federal poverty guidelines, and the classroom helpers receive a stipend and assistance with matters from planning wills to annual physicals.

There are over 22,000 foster grandparents assisting 155,000 youth nationwide in some capacity.

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Good for the soul, body, and spirit

Wanda Brookings sums up the greatest benefit of her days simply. “It's a joy to get up every morning and know that a smile and a hug is waiting for me. Who wouldn't want to get up and get that?”

Her sister grandmas nod in approval of the assurance that “they need me, and I need them,” as Brookings states. Margie Dixon relates the power of a thumbs-up and a kind wink to a child. “That's our secret,” she insists.

Maureen Brooks credits her role as a foster grandma for her recent good bill of health from the doctor. Her weight is down, and so is her blood pressure, and her cataracts are now "fine” after surgery, "so I can see my babies.” Almost half of all foster grandparents reported improved health in a recent study.

The reciprocated love between these senior wonder workers cannot be underestimated in the lives of children. Dixon recalls a heartfelt question from one little girl. “Do you know how much I love you?” she inquired. After turning to conceal her tears, Dixon replied, “You just don't know how much I love you today.”

“Some children have no idea of love,” reminds the volunteer. Over 100 foster grandparents are on the waiting list for the Excel program, waiting for the dollars to allow them to serve. As 2018 winds down with so many reminders of lost, broken and hurting children, foster grandparents could be an utterly golden investment in the future.

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