Twenty-five years ago, Beryl Katz attended a school board meeting at Council Rock intending to volunteer. A teacher and parent herself, she knew how important it was to figure out a way to reduce the number of students to caring adults at little or no cost.
The atmosphere at the meeting that October night in 1998 was contentious. Parents wanted to see a second high school built, not only because the existing one was full to bursting; moreover, they wanted to see more extracurricular opportunities offered to their children.
The senior citizens were very vocal in their opposition to a second high school. They expected the district to make do with what they already had. Beryl knew that the increase in property values locally had been largely driven by their highly rated school district, which in turn had led to higher property taxes.
The result was that families with school age children benefited while older people on fixed incomes did not. They had already raised their children. Building another school would only raise property taxes they were already struggling to afford again.
As the two sides clashed, Beryl, parent of school age children, and daughter of an elderly mother, thought about the two conflicting perspectives. Out of the desire to see everyone benefit, Senior Adults for Greater Education began.
The mission at SAGE is to connect senior volunteers with schools to support teachers, engage senior citizens, and enrich education.
“Generations educating generations” is the way they describe their program of matching community members, aged 55 plus with fulfilling volunteer opportunities within their local school districts.
Says Beryl, “No matter what a volunteer’s background, everyone has an experience or expertise that can add value to the school day. And whether a volunteer is able to give an hour per day, week, or month, SAGE has an opportunity to fit their schedule.”
As a result of their time with students, seniors gain a sense of purpose and a feeling that they are an integral and vibrant part of the community. Help is needed in three ways. Specialized placements offer volunteers with a particular area of expertise the chance to participate on an episodic basis, assisting with specialized events, like a spelling bee or science fair. Extra-curricular clubs and activity placements let volunteers showcase their talents and hobbies with students, from Scrabble to chess, from knitting to gardening. Virtual placement volunteers can contribute while still addressing health and transportation concerns.
As a bonus, time in schools gives these taxpayers a window into what education is like today and the demands on educators. Often volunteers become advocates for teachers and the district itself.
The benefits to schools and students are many. Seniors sharing their knowledge and experience provide an extra dimension to the classroom, allowing volunteers to work one-on-one or in small groups with students who might need extra help, thus giving teachers the chance to work more closely with the rest of the class. As a result, students become more confident, exhibit better manners, and become more comfortable around other generations.
Recently, SAGE received two awards. Generations United, an organization that improves the lives of children through intergenerational programs chose them as a “Program of Distinction.”
The National Partnership for Student Success, a diverse coalition that connects nonprofits and school districts, named them “Champions” in helping to promote tutoring and mentoring in schools.
As Beryl Katz has observed over her 25 years as Founder and Executive Director, there are no causes more worthy than education, community, and tolerance. By volunteering or donating to Senior Adults for Greater Education, you will be supporting all three.
PHOTO CAP: Beryl Katz