MARQUETTE - A program created to help grandparents reach out and teach little ones using just the things they have at home has also extended its reach, this time to inmates at the Marquette County Community Correction Detention Center located at the former Magnum Farm state prison work farm. Grandparents Teach, Too is made up of a group of retired teachers dedicated to helping young moms and dads, as well as grandparents prepare even the youngest learners for school.
The program takes place every other month and they group has done it five times now. It begins with a short group session to explain to the inmates why they are doing the program and how it will benefit the children in their lives. Some of the inmates have children or grandchildren, but not all of them do.
Then the inmates break out into small groups and visit a series of centers set up around the room, each staffed with a retired teacher ready to help guide them through the activities. Each time the centers have different activities, but always have the same focus areas: gross motor activities, fine motor activities, math, art, math, reading, geography and economics.
Retired teacher Iris Katers works with inmates at the Marquette County Community Correction Detention Center as part of the Grandparents Teach, Too prison parenting workshop. (Journal photo by Claire Abent)
The ultimate goal is to get adults working with kids so that they are prepared for school.
"We're trying to get these guys to teach their relatives, teach their friends with just the stuff about the house. They can energize the children so that they learn to learn about geography or art or math," Iris Katers, one of the teachers, said.
On this particular day, the inmates joined retired teachers Katers, Cheryl Anderegg, Jean Hetrick, along with former Northern Michigan University professor John Vanbeynen and Colleen Walker. The inmates learned about teaching geography by using a rug, towels, tape and paper to create a landscape. They also learned how to create six-sided snowflakes from by folding and cutting paper. They also played education-centered card games and played sorting games with buttons. It was a lesson for all in the educational opportunities in everyday things.
But one of the main goals was to stress to the inmates how important seemingly simple things can be, like talking and reading to children.
"They (children) come to us thinking 250 times faster than adults. We want to use that to them ready for school. We want brains coming to us ready to learn," Katers said.
So far, the program has had a visibile impact on those who have participated in it, not only because they are visibly engaged and eagerly get involved, but because of the feedback the teachers receive.
"We've had inmates who have come to me with tears in their eyes saying 'No on ever did that with me. No one ever told me that was important,'" Katers said. "That is what it's all about."
Katers, Hetrick and Anderegg, along with Esther Macalady and Tim Fox, are co-authors of the book "Learning Through the Seasons." When the inmates leave the facility they are presented with a copy of the book, there are also 5 copies of the book available in the library for their use.
Claire Abent can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.