The children sit on a brightly colored rug, clustered around a large brown easy chair. Their complete attention focuses on the grandmotherly figure before them, holding up a book for all to see, reading out loud. This iconic classroom scene repeats every week in Cara Webb's kindergarten class at Dillon Valley Elementary.
The woman reading the books is Catherine Grant, known affectionately as "Grandma Catherine." Grant has volunteered in the kindergarten classroom for the past four years, bringing the love of books and reading to the students.
"The kids are always excited to see what books she takes out of her bag," said Webb, who witnesses her students' enthusiasm for the reading time with "Grandma Catherine." Though the classroom also offers bookcases full of books, the students really focus on their special guest.
In addition to reading to the children every week, Grant constantly donates to the classroom - books, learning flashcards, even Target gift cards. Recently, she donated handmade book bags to each student in the class. Previously, the children carried their books in plastic bags, which constantly tore. Now, each student proudly displays a book bag with his or her name on the front. Grant guesses it took her between four and five hours to make them all, and says it in a casual tone that suggests she doesn't think that is very long at all.
Students Izzy Rowe and Tristan Newton showed off the contents of their book bags, counting out nearly 15 books each that they take back and forth between home and school. They said they enjoyed the reading time with Grant, particularly the funny parts. Both showed an appreciation for books and reading.
When asked why she dedicates so much time and effort to volunteering, Grant quips, "I miss my grandchildren," who currently live in Texas. More seriously, her reply is, "I saw a need." A former civil district judge in Fort Worth, Texas, Grant feels strongly about volunteering locally.
"Learning is essential," she said. She also praised Webb for her classroom management and emphasis on learning. "Cara Webb is a superb teacher, every minute is about learning. The kids are lucky to have her."
Though later the students will scatter through the classroom to work on separate projects, now they gather close to hear the end of Grant's reading hour. She pauses to ask questions related to the story. The children laugh and answer, offering up personal stories, eager to be included. When she returns to the story they fall silent, even those in the back hardly fidgeting, eyes trained forward, delighted by her words.