I recently followed Archwood School on Twitter. I used to work at Archwood School and I enjoy feeling like I am still connected to its story. A few weeks ago I noticed that a grade 5/6 teacher was posting about the HOSTS program. I didn’t know anything about this program, but the tweet implied that senior citizens were a regular part of the school week. I loved this idea as I have often worried about the disconnect between students and seniors and the percentage of lonely seniors. I felt that this was an innovative way to help students and seniors who could benefit from one-on-one connections.
I decided to interview Anita Fedoruk to learn more about this innovative program.
Anita informed me that HOSTS stands for Helping Our Students To Succeed. For her classroom, it consists of seniors who volunteer for 1 1/2 hour periods. The seniors work with three different students in that time frame. The same students are supported on a daily basis with reading/writing. Students are provided reading materials at their instructional reading level. They read the material several times to develop accuracy and fluency and then answer various questions to support comprehension and writing skills.
She was motivated to begin this program in her classroom as a good friend of hers is involved in a similar program in Texas. Her retired colleague spends her winters in Texas and volunteers with early years students. Anita felt that with knowing the needs of her students, this program would work well with her grade 5/6 class. She felt that even though her students are in Grade 5/6, developmentally they may be way younger. For the program, Anita chose students that are at a lower grade level and could use the extra support because they wouldn’t otherwise get it. When her administrator forwarded grant applications, Anita filled one out for this program to support resources. She was happy to receive grant money so her dreams could become a reality!
Anita believes that she is not a very outgoing person when in comes to soliciting assistance. She gets really nervous when speaking in front of adults. Her administrator helped by enlisting the assistance of the Community Liaison coordinator to make contact with the 55+ plus at Archwood CC and the Youville Centre. Aninta needed to overcome her anxiety to present to the seniors and pitch her idea. A professional barrier that challenged Anita was working with younger level reading. Most of her career has been spent with grade 7/8 students, and learning best practices to support literacy at a younger level was her biggest challenge. She also found it challenging that she didn’t have a repertoire of resources to pull from.
To foster more creativity in the classroom, Anita believes that it is important that teachers learn to give up some control and let the students guide where the class is going to go – within reason. She thinks that teachers can come up with the “big ideas” and the abilities of the students will determine what can be done. She also believes that having high expectations is also really important. In her opinion, letting the students know where they are going elevates their ownership and accountability. Showing connections to life whenever possible and providing authentic opportunities for learning is also really important. Anita believes that it is still important that the curriculum is covered, but it can be done more creatively.
Anita says that if she can speed up the development of her students’ reading and writing skills, then she is contributing positively to the social/economic health because her students will have stronger skills to support the work force when they are adults. Culturally – her efforts are building positive relationships between students and the senior population. Currently Anita is finding this program difficult to sustain as she only has one volunteer each day. This is her first year in the program and feels that a huge challenge is getting senior volunteers.
Anita believed that the HOSTS program continues to have many positive outcomes. First and foremost, her struggling readers are getting one-on-one support on a daily basis for half hour and therefore are developing their literacy skills. Beyond the academic development, her students that are directly involved with the senior volunteers are developing positive relationships with the volunteers. Even though the rest of the class don’t have one-on-one support, they are also developing a deeper appreciation for the volunteers. The seniors are developing an appreciation for the students. Anita is also developing relationships with the seniors. The senior volunteers are very proud of their contributions to the learning of students. Anita says “it has been a win-win situation”.