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Grand Rapids elementary school's 'Granny K' makes school days better for second graders

Katherine Higgins, or Granny K, is a foster grandparent with Senior Neighbors. She provides the grandmotherly comfort to students.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Being a second-grader can be tough sometimes. 

Katherine Higgins makes the day a little easier for the students in Mrs. Contreras' classroom at East Leonard Elementary. 

"She looks kids in the eye, she just makes them feel loved," said Lindsey Contreras, "She just gives the best hugs."

Higgins, who everyone calls Granny K, is a foster grandparent with Senior Neighbors. She is in the same classroom providing help to the teacher and students four days a week. 

"I'm a grandparent, and I live alone," said Granny K, "It's so fulfilling to have the happy little faces every day that you come in, give you a sense of worth."

She helps the students learn to tie their shoes, color in the lines, pay attention to the teacher and more. 

Credit: 13 OYS
Granny K helps students on the first day color "Helping Hands" hand prints.

Mostly, however, she is there for emotional support. 

"We have a lot of kids who come in and they sometimes are having a rough day," said Contreras, "Her first job is checking in with those kids, making sure that they feel comfortable being here, and making sure they feel loved and cared for and supported."

It's a role that's especially important on the first day of school, when everyone has some degree of the jitters. 

"It's really tough," said Granny K, of going from first to second grade, "It's a transition from a baby to a big kid."

Grand Rapids Public Schools could use more helpers like Granny K. Senior Neighbors is looking for more volunteers, especially to be classroom grandpas. 

"Sometimes exhausted, but that's okay," said Granny K about the end of the day, "Every day, something good happens for at least most of them that I touch, you know? So, I feel good at the end of the day."

Tuesday, on GRPS's first day of school, Granny K read a book to the classroom called First Day Jitters. She and Mrs. Contreras talked about how the students were feeling about the first day. 

Granny K likes to be able to help the classroom where she can. 

"The kids need some guidance," said Granny K, "There's a shortage on teachers."

Learn more about becoming a Senior Neighbors volunteer on their website by clicking here.

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