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Spending the day with special visitors

MALTA – Gumercindo Hernandez laughed as he watched his grandson Alex Boyden play tic-tac-toe on the SMART Board in his third-grade classroom.

“I enjoyed what they’ve showed me,” Hernandez said. “And they enjoyed learning how school was in the old days.”

Hernandez was one of the many grandparents who visited Malta Elementary School on Thursday for the school’s annual Grandparents’/Special Visitors’ Day.

For about 90 minutes, the adults joined their respective students in many different activities. In Kirsten Ellis’s second-grade class, they listened to Ellis read the story “Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge.” In Jen Dahlke-Ney’s fourth-grade class, the adults played math games with their students or helped them with their reading comprehension activities.

Third-grader Noah Prince said he was excited to play different games with his grandparents, Jan and Rich Travaglio, who drove two hours from New Lenox to be there.

“We love seeing him and we love that they have the Grandparents’ Day,” Jan Travaglio said. “We take off work and come. It’s worth it. I spend time with my boy.”

The goal of the day is to make grandparents invested in their students’ education so the children are inspired to do well, said Principal Troy Miller.

“Having that support from the grandparents makes the kids realize that it’s more than just school. It’s like a family,” Miller said. “A place to celebrate all the student work.”

Miller estimated that 85 percent of his school’s 315 students had a visitor Thursday. Those numbers fluctuate because one adult could be there to see more than one student.

Although it’s commonly referred to Grandparents’ Day, Miller and other school officials call it Special Visitors’ Day, as well. Miller said he understands that not every grandparent is able to make it to the school, so other visitors, like parents, fill that role.

That was the case with Maureen Stone, who used one of her days off at Kishwaukee Community Hospital to be at school with her son, Jimmy.

“I don’t get to see him at school very much,” Maureen Stone said. “It’s a special day, and I didn’t want him to be by himself.”

All of the special visitors have lunch with the students. To her son’s obvious excitement, Maureen Stone brought him a spicy Italian sandwich from Subway for lunch.

But not everyone has a special visitor on this day. Miller said he would like to see future iterations of Grandparents’/Special Visitor’s Day to have some adults act as surrogates for a child if neither their parents nor grandparents can be there.

“The thing I don’t want to happen is to have some kid sit on the sideline and say ‘I have nobody here for me, nobody loves me.’ That’s not the case,” Miller said. “You have to be very mindful of how to get kids involved.”

Miller mentioned that one student asked a custodian at the school if he could be his “grandpa” for the day, and Miller said he was willing to fill that role himself if asked.

“Everyone needs that support,” Miller said.

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