Grandad Howard Wilson on a reading mission

Howard Wilson with his Year 2 readers, Natasha, Mya, Tegan and Lily.
Howard Wilson with his Year 2 readers, Natasha, Mya, Tegan and Lily.

Meet Howard Wilson - the new face of volunteering in primary schools.

Mr Wilson, 88, is one of a legion of grandparents regularly helping out in Mountains schools. He's a familiar sight along the pedestrian pathway by the Great Western Highway, driving his electric all-weather scooter from his Springwood home to Faulconbridge Public School most school days, spending an average of four hours helping out with the daily reading needs of the 2T classroom where his daughter Jacqui Thomas teaches.

"He's pretty special," says principal Dorothee Lean, who has a "parking" space reserved on the lawn for the former World War II veteran and African missionary.

"He's our only great grandparent".

When he first started volunteering two years ago, after relocating from Sydney, he caught a taxi each day to the school. When his "go kart" arrived it dramatically reduced the daily expense.

"I'd just be sitting at home reading books," he said of helping out at the school.

"It gives me a meaning to living and the parents appreciate it. It's mainly listening and anyone can do that."

Mrs Lean says schools have started to rely on grandparents to help out when parents are busy working, and regular reading can be one daily activity that gets overlooked in a modern, busy family.

"We've got one grandmother that comes in and does the gardens, we've got a grandmother who works every week in our school cooking program, we've actually got heaps of grandparents."

"At home now the priorities are different," Mrs Lean said.

"And the cost of housing has gone up so much mums need to work," added Mr Wilson.

The school had about 25 regular volunteers in total, Mrs Lean said, and had also recently benefited from the early morning school cafe program started by three mums to give carers the chance to debrief after drop-off.

"Faulconbridge doesn't have a cafe. It was started because of the bushfires so people had somewhere to talk about how they were feeling," Mrs Lean said.

Volunteers of all ages at schools helped fill in the gaps.

"They are the helping hands that make the extras happen and that support the learning of students that need that extra, that we wouldn't otherwise be able to supply."

Springwood Public School has also benefited from the help of grandparents over the last six years through a special Grandfriends program, one of 38 schools state-wide involved in that program.

An Education Department spokesman said they did not keep records on the numbers and type of volunteers in today's classrooms and could not comment.

However the Australian Bureau of Statistics results show the need for grandparents to fill in the gaps outside the classroom is on the increase. In 2002 grandparents were providing childcare to one in five children from age one to 11; by 2011 it was one in four.


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