Foster Grandparent Program volunteer helps improve children’s literacy skills through book club

One local volunteer of the Foster Grandparent Program has helped to make a positive change in children’s literacy skills through a popular book club.

After retiring in 2017, Rick Fockler, affectionately referred to as “Grandpa Rick,” has devoted his time volunteering in Rachel Brandeberry’s third and fourth-grade class at Renaissance Public School Academy in Mt. Pleasant.

“Rachel and Rick’s connection helps put in perspective the purpose of the program and what I’m doing as director,” says Brandi Knivila, Director of the Foster Grandparent/Senior Companion Programs. “Their connection was like magic.”

He was involved in the classroom four days a week and eventually started the “Grandpa Rick Book Club” which was held every Tuesday and Thursday during recess.

“I tried my hardest to get kids enthused about reading,” says Fockler. “My first book club started with five kids and over the years we grew to over a dozen.”

Brandeberry says she views him as more of a teaching partner than a volunteer and that reading scores shot through the roof with kids participating in the book club.

“Rick truly has a heart of gold,” says Brandeberry. “These kids were psyched to sacrifice recess time to join his book club.”

Fockler would spend time reading books such as “The BFG”, “Hatchet”, and “Charlotte’s Web.” He assigns students questions to exercise their reading comprehension and leads discussions about the stories.

“Not every kid wanted to read out loud at first, but eventually they all joined in,” says Fockler. “I missed being around my grandkids and it helped fill a void while also improving the students' reading and writing.”

A message from Fockler to his students during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Fockler was unable to continue his book club. He received a Chromebook from the Isabella County Commission on Aging and rejoined with virtual class time and book clubs in 2021.

“I was one of the first grandparents to have contact with their kids since the pandemic started,” says Fockler. “Virtual learning is difficult so I took it easy on the kids because you never know what’s going on at home behind that screen.”

Fockler’s impact has also translated outside of the classroom. Before the pandemic, he often attended students' recitals, concerts, and sports games. He would buy Brandeberry and his students Christmas gifts, as well as bring in bracelets, snacks, and candy.

“I’m just a normal grandpa trying to brighten these kids' days and they’ve brightened my life even more,” says Fockler. “The only thing I don’t look forward to is the last day of school.”

This upcoming school year Brandeberry will move up to teach seventh and eighth-grade students, and “Grandpa Rick” is following along with her.

“I can’t wait to get back in the classroom with the kids where it’s more personal and meaningful,” says Fockler.

For more information or to find out how to volunteer, visit mafgscp.org or call the Isabella County Commission on Aging at (989) 772-0748.