Sun City seniors go back to school

Coyote Ridge taps a priceless resource
By: Eileen Wilson Special to The Press-Tribune
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Coyote Ridge School in Roseville may be for elementary-age kids, but that doesn’t stop area senior citizens from joining in the fun. Michelle Harmeier, principal of Coyote Ridge, decided at the outset that the 6-year-old school should utilize one of Roseville’s most priceless resources – the skills, talents and compassion of Sun City seniors. With a little recruitment, the Golden Coyote group was formed. Soon, ladies and gentlemen in their golden years were making their way weekly to Coyote Ridge to assist kindergarten through fifth-grade students with fundamentals such as reading and mathematics. Successful though the program was, Harmeier didn’t stop there. What began as a recruitment effort in Sun City, expanded to other area senior citizens, and even some students’ grandparents couldn’t resist the offer to head back to school. The Golden Coyotes, numbering anywhere from 15 to 30 members, volunteer an hour or two each week with students. “Our reading specialist put on a workshop to help volunteers know how to read with the kids,” Harmeier said, but insists it’s not the know-how that makes volunteers special. It’s the attitude. “This Golden Coyote program provides another significant adult who might impact kids for a lifetime in a positive way,” she said. John C. Smith, volunteer coordinator for the program, agrees. “It affects the kids when you volunteer in the classroom. You show you care enough to be there,” he said. In addition to students receiving extra support, one-on-one attention, and skill-building practice, volunteers offer other benefits. Recently fourth-grade students enjoyed a non-typical day. Leo Tarantino, a volunteer for the last two years and former teacher, assists students with weekly academics. He was thrilled to finish last year’s school year with one of his favorite activities, bocce ball, and coordinated a tournament involving 125 kids. Tarantino, affectionately known on campus as “Mr. T,” doesn’t keep the fun to himself, however. His wife, Adele, or “Mrs T.” volunteers as well, spending her time assisting all grades in the technology lab, a job that she said couldn’t be more essential, given the increasing importance our society places on computers and technology. Golden Coyote volunteers currently provide kids with an after-school chess club, a ceramics club, classroom support, library support and more. But Harmeier said she would love to see the program expand in the near future. Her goal is to have 100 volunteers, which would mean roughly two senior helpers per classroom. With enough volunteer help, she imagines offering additional extracurricular activities, like a scrap-booking club, needle crafts, arts, and maybe even a video and technology club – the possibilities are endless. While some volunteers are former classroom teachers, many have no experience teaching, or with children in general. Smith, who is a retired chief of police, stated volunteers are never in charge of classrooms, they’re strictly there for support. “Anyone that can read can do this – you don’t need to be an expert, or have any special skills,” he said. Smith’s wife, Kathy, also volunteers, reading with first-graders. She pointed out that she mostly allows students to practice their skills by reading aloud to her. “Just the short time I’ve worked with them, I really see improvements,” she said. “It’s very satisfying – if kids fall behind in that level (first grade), it creates a life-long problem.” Harmeier said she always tries to create a social connection for the volunteers, so they can bond and share experiences with the students. She credits Mimi’s Café in Roseville for providing an occasional volunteer breakfast, free of charge, and considers the restaurant to be “an incredible educational partner.” The school is on the lookout this fall for new seniors – men and women who can say a student’s name, give a kind word and look a kid in the eye. Kathy Smith said she understands volunteers frequently need time away for vacations and various appointments, and promises the scheduling is very flexible. “It all comes back to what you get from the kids,” she said. “The kids love it so much – it’s really fun to see their faces light up.” For more information about the Golden Coyote program at Coyote Ridge Elementary School, contact program coordinator John C. Smith for at 782-7234 or