Sully Seniors Help at Bull Run Elementary

Sully Seniors Help at Bull Run Elementary

It's a blending of young and old, youth and experience, and it happens all during the school year at Bull Run Elementary. The second Thursday of each month, eight men and women from the Sully Senior Center in Centreville lend a hand at the school.

Some read with children; others cut, staple, sort and perform other tasks for teachers. And it's all courtesy of a partnership between Bull Run and the senior center.

"It's mutual giving and receiving," said Bull Run Principal Thom Clement. "Our students receive the message of how much care the older generation has for the younger." And, added Centreville's Glenda McConn, who coordinates the partnership, "Many of the seniors don't have family here, so it's beneficial to them, too."

Clement said they've worked at the school for six years and really encourage the students' progress. At the same time, he said, "It gives them a sense of worth and value that they're making a contribution to the next generation."

Assistant Principal Judy Baldwin said the Sully Seniors especially love working with the reading teacher, helping organize the books. And by helping teachers with their behind-the-scenes chores, she said, "The teachers have more time to spend with their students."

In return, said McConn, "Bull Run students send their artwork to the senior center. And when the seniors return to school, the next month, they [trade it for] a new batch to display."

Jean Grace Kemp of Centreville's Singleton's Grove community has been going to the Sully Senior Center for five years. "I line dance, do exercises and socialize," she said. She's also helped at Bull Run for five years and, at the school's end-of-the-year celebration of the partnership program, the students also celebrated her 76th birthday with cake and ice cream.

On her monthly visits, Kemp listens to third- and fourth-graders read. She also does production work for the teachers, such as stamping, putting things together for information packets and cutting out letters for posters.

"Around Easter, we cut out ducks," she said. "Whatever they want us to do, we do." One day, the senior volunteers counted out so many rulers, protractors and calculators per teacher — in addition to sharpening 750 pencils — in preparation for the students' SOL tests.

"I like it very much," said Kemp. "It's just amazing to see how far these children have come since we've been here. We get treated well at Bull Run; it's a very good school. It gives us something different to do, and it's useful work."

Sidney Blumenthal, 84, of Sully Station, has also volunteered there for five years. At the senior center, he said, "We sit around and talk, exercise and have guest speakers on health, money management, insurance, etc. And we also go on shopping trips."

And he, too, looks forward to coming each month to Bull Run. "We listen to the children read and we correct their words and pronunciation," he explained. "I've been volunteering for 25 years; I used to work at a children's hospital in New York."

Blumenthal said helping out at the school makes the time pass quickly. "And it's interesting," he said. "I like kids, and I enjoy doing it. And especially if you feel lonely, it makes you feel good."

Also of Sully Station, Ruby Kirkaldy, 80, has been lending a hand at Bull Run since it opened, six years ago. "I have two grandchildren who graduated from this school," she said. "I was volunteering at Deer Park and London Towne [elementaries] and still do, and I learned about this program at the Sully Senior Center."

Her duties include stamping all the new books with the school's name, stapling papers for the teachers and cutting out shapes and other things. She came here from California, about seven years ago, and lives in the Forest Glen Senior Center.

"When I first moved here, I didn't have anything to do and didn't know the place or anybody here," said Kirkaldy. So she joined the Sully Senior Center as a way of getting to know people. As for her work at Bull Run, she said, "If I didn't do it, I don't know what I'd do."

She said she enjoys volunteering there very much. "It gives me a sense of doing something, and a reason to get up and get dressed, every day," said Kirkaldy. "I go somewhere and do something for somebody, instead of sitting on the couch and talking about my aches and pains."

Ruth Ann Crowder, SACC (School-Age Child Care) Center supervisor, said the kindergartners share Valentine's Day with the seniors and an ice-cream social at the end of the school year. "The kids get to know them and look forward to seeing them again," she said. "And for Valentine's Day, the kindergartners do craft [gifts] for them and make cards for the whole senior center."

"The little ones give them hugs," said McConn. "And when the kindergartners move up to first grade and are reading with them, they already have a kinship." Added Crowder: "It's nice for both of them because lots of the kids don't have grandparents here, so it works both ways."

McConn said the seniors take pride in what they do. And, she said, "It gives the children and them a wonderful chance to relate to each other."