Click photo to enlarge
Mona Walker, of Newark, a volunteer in the "Seniors in School" programs is seen here at Musick Elementary School, in Newark, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009. Walker has spent 20 years helping children read and teaches with tasks in the classroom through the program. (Anda Chu/Staff)

NEWARK — A second-grader at Musick Elementary School is falling behind on the day's lesson because he has trouble reading.

Without a little special attention, the boy gets lost in the crowd and may not be able to catch up on the assignments; the quality of his education is in jeopardy.

In a classroom of more than 25 students, it's almost impossible for his teacher to help him directly. That is where longtime Newark resident Mona Walker's volunteer work becomes extra important.

The 85-year-old retired educator whisks the boy to a table in the back of the classroom. There she will give him the attention he needs to hopefully succeed.

"Often there are students who need a little extra work," second-grade teacher Chris Scheving said. "It's very difficult to do (that) with one teacher and now 24 to 27 students (per class). Mona can help them one-on-one."

For the last 20 years, Walker has been donating her time to the Seniors in Schools program, which has been sending retired people into Newark elementary classrooms.

She started as a regular volunteer in 1990 — five years after the program started — and since also has taken on the role of the program's director.

As the leader of the group, it is her duty to recruit volunteers and assign them to classrooms, as well as make sure they are helping as much as possible.


Advertisement

As a volunteer, she works two days a week in classrooms at Musick Elementary. One of those rooms is where Scheving teaches.

The teacher and volunteer first met when Walker began assisting two other Musick educators about 20 years ago. When those teachers retired recently, Scheving immediately requested Walker's help.

"I was very anxious to have her as someone who could help out in my class," he said.

Walker's classroom duties vary from day to day, she said.

Some days she acts as a chaperon on field trips, and other days she helps students when they go to the library. On occasion, she helps Scheving with lessons, but for the most part she acts as a tutor for various subjects, particularly reading.

"I love being with children. It's my passion to help people," said Walker, a mother of seven who spent nearly 45 years in various child education and caretaker roles before retiring. "It's really satisfying to see them learn and improve."

Her work is important to the Seniors in Schools program — which has about 20 volunteers who collectively donate about 2,500 hours annually to local classrooms — but primarily to the students, who thoroughly enjoy working with her, Scheving said.

"With education nowadays, a lot of emphasis is put on improving test scores" he said. "We're always looking to find ways to make sure every child is making progress. ... Sometimes the only way they can get it is through some one-on-one attention."

Contact Ben Aguirre Jr. at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/benaguirrejr