The Prince George's County schools and Department of Aging last week launched a new Foster Grandparents Program at eight county schools.

Twenty senior citizens, paid with federal funds, began assisting classroom teachers four days a week, often working one-on-one with students, helping them with their studies.

Five of the schools are special centers for handicapped students, the type of student helped here and nationwide by foster grandparents for a number of years.

But this year for the first time, the senior tutors are working with regular classroom students at Langley Park-McCormack, Chillum and Brandywine elementary schools.

"Our county may be the first in the country to begin to use foster grandparents in a regular classroom situation," school spokesman Brian J. Porter said.

"The traditional focus has been on students with mental and physical disabilities. In our program we are broadening that focus. And the principals are almost ecstatic."

The foster grandparents, lower-income residents of the county who must be 65 or older to participate, are picked up early in the morning by school buses. They work in the classrooms for five hours a day and receive a weekly stipend of about $40 a week, Porter said.

"They are phenomenal people," Porter said. "They are very dear individuals who are gaining as much from this program as we are."

The school system wants to expand the program and, in the meantime, is recruiting volunteer grandparents outside of the federal program, he said.

The three regular schools were picked because of their high numbers of single-parent students and disadvantaged children, he said.

"The children have accepted them so well," he said of the foster grandparents. "The children look at them like a gift. For many, it's like a distant, long-lost relative come to visit."