In Woodbridge, retirees visit kindergarten classrooms for reading and conversation

Nathaniel Tesfamichael seemed stumped by his second-grade assignment. He was supposed to list “adjectives that describe me,” and after writing down “fast,” “cool,” “helpful,” “sleepy” and “lazy,” he had run out.

Frances Stockdale jumped in with a suggestion. Stretching out her hands, the animated 84-year-old asked the diligent 8-year-old, “Are you tall or short?”

“I’m tall and short!” Tesfamichael exclaimed. He wrote down both.

“I miss this so much,” Stockdale said. After years as a second- and third-grade teacher, Stockdale is retired; the only children she sees regularly are her great-grandchildren. But every other month, she has the chance to come back to the classroom as part of a group of retirees who tutor children at Woodbridge’s Rockledge Elementary School.

Schoolchildren doing service projects sometimes visit retirement communities such as Westminster at Lake Ridge, the one where Stockdale and her fellow tutors live. But the Westminster residents have turned that around: Instead of waiting for children to come to them, they go to the kids.


Meera Benedict, 5, left, and Emma Hopp, 6, read a book about money with Edvidge D'Andrea. (Julie Zauzmer)

Seven retirees stepped into kindergarten and second-grade classrooms at Rockledge last week to read stories, listen to students practicing their reading and lend a hand to busy teachers.

Edvidge D’Andrea read two girls a book titled “Money Madness” that boiled down concepts such as inflation and currency exchange rates.

Emma Hopp, 6, interrupted to say that she had some money of her own — she got it from the Tooth Fairy.

“How much did you get?” D’Andrea asked.

“One,” Hopp said. “But it was very gold.”

Another kindergartner tumbled past, and D’Andrea reached out to tickle the delighted child. Then D’Andrea noticed that the classroom teacher had assigned several children who didn’t know the rules of the game to play bingo, so she taught them how to play.

In another kindergarten class, Helen Howze read a picture book about a friendly wolf to Kori Waller, 5. “I can count,” Waller said when they reached the last page. She carefully counted every paw print on the page — 47, it turned out. “My goodness, that’s wonderful,” Howze said.

Then it was Alana Ramirez’s turn with Howze, and she wanted to read the story herself. Howze asked her to sound out the letters o-n. “I know,” said Ramirez, 5. “I read all night.”

Some volunteers said they enjoyed simply talking to the children. Stockdale chatted with one child about having a parent serving in the military. Charlotte Spagnoli, a former English and art teacher, offered an ear to a kindergartner about to become an older sibling.

Elsie and Gene Feuerstein said they enjoyed the tutoring so much that they plan to come back on their own once a week. Gene Feuerstein, a retired accountant, made plans to help fifth-graders with math, and a second-grade teacher told Elsie Feuerstein she was so good with children that she couldn’t believe she had never been a teacher herself.

“I think I’m spurred on,” Elsie Feuerstein said. “It gives me the incentive to forget about my arthritis.”

Julie Zauzmer is a local news reporter.
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