New London School Board members heard from workers in the Senior Tax Exchange Program (STEP) during the June 9 meeting.
“We’re in the ninth year of the program and I’m a lucky guy in the district because I get to work with great people who are doing above and beyond the call of duty in the program,” said STEP coordinator Randy Marsh.
The STEP program allows senior citizens who are 62 years or older and pay property tax on their primary residence within the New London School District, to work in the schools in exchange for property tax credit.
The pay is $6.50 per hour, and volunteers can earn a maximum of $429 toward property taxes at the end of each year. The $429 amounts to a maximum of 66 work hours per household.
“The pay is not a significant amount, but it shows you that these people are willing to work at a minimum wage for the purpose of helping kids,” Marsh said. “And 99 percent of our workers have gone well beyond the allotted 66 hours because they love what they’re doing for the kids.”
The program was designed for local senior citizens to use their personal experiences and expertise to help students. In today’s complex society, students often enter schools with needs greater than the primary purpose of education.
Whether it’s physical, social or emotional, these needs must be met before any academic learning takes place. The STEP worker assumes the role and responsibility of helping teams of teachers to meet the needs of all students.
The workers perform a wide variety of tasks that include reading to a child, clerical work, tutoring, shelving books in the library, preparing bulletin boards, arts and crafts, music, sports, mentoring and chaperoning.
STEP provides students with opportunities for increased one-on-one learning experiences, increased small group learning experiences, positive social and emotional experiences, and cross generational experiences.
“It’s great seeing how the kids interact with the STEP workers,” Marsh said. “The kids will see the workers in the morning and give them hugs. It really makes the STEP workers feel good because they are doing something worthwhile.”
Marsh further commented that many kids see the STEP workers as a grandparent figure.
The district currently has 42 senior citizens working in the program and 12 community members on a waiting list.
“We would love to have as many members as we can, but we don’t have the financial resources at this time,” Marsh said. “We are hopeful that some kind of funding can be worked out within the budget.”
STEP workers Wally Heise, Mona Klug, Bill and Darlene Crowe, and 5K teacher Ellen Flannery shared with members their personal experiences and what STEP has meant to them.
Heise worked with special needs kids at the high school and said it had been an enjoyable and rewarding experience for him. He enjoyed helping the kids and accompanying them on trips.
Klug had been a part of STEP since the beginning and she said the children are really fun and sweet. She also showed board members letters with drawn pictures that some of the students had given her at the end of the school year.
Darlene Crowe worked at Readfield calling her experiences a “diamond in the rough.” She loved seeing the enthusiasm in the students, and how they had grown in learning throughout the year. She also enjoyed working with the teachers whom she referred to as blessings to the district.
Bill Crowe has been a part of the program for two months and he described the experience as very gratifying and bittersweet; bitter because he didn’t start sooner. He worked at the high school in the metal technology classes.
Flannery praised the STEP program. She described Crowe as a nurturing and caring worker in her classroom. “The kids come in with a smile everyday and I’m thankful for the workers and glad we have a program like this in our district.”
For the 2013-2014 school year, 52 classrooms had STEP workers with some workers devoting their time in multiple classrooms and schools. There are 76 teachers requesting STEP workers for the fall of 2014.
“This is remarkable,” Marsh said. “We have a great program with really wonderful people who are helping our kids and it’s beneficial for our kids.”
Superintendent Kathy Gwidt thanked all members of the STEP program for their positive efforts and devotion to helping the students.
“You all do a remarkable job at enhancing instructional opportunities for our kids here in New London,” Gwidt said.
Early childhood playground update
The district continues to receive numerous donations from community members and other people from across the state just weeks after vandalism destroyed the early childhood playground at the high school.
“We are very thankful and grateful for donations from the community and people a far,” Director of Business Services Joe Marquardt said. “We sincerely appreciate the random acts of kindness by those individuals and businesses who have taken an interest in building the playground back up for our kids.”
The district is in the early planning stages, but is hopeful for a bigger and better playground that will be handicap accessible.