Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 25, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Mary Schuck has been retired since 2002, but it sure doesn’t seem like it.
She wakes up at 5:30 every morning and by 7 a.m., she’s settling in for a day at Overton Elementary School.
Schuck takes her role seriously as a volunteer in the first-grade classroom her daughter teaches.
For eight years now, she showed up to school on time and stayed until the last bell rings. And she hardly ever takes a sick day.
“People ask me why I don’t just come here and get a job with a paycheck, but that never entered my mind,” she said. “I like having the freedom to come and go, although I am really faithful.”
Schuck knows what the students see in her, that’s why she keeps coming back.
To them, she’s a reader, a hugger, a hint giver, a warm smile, a confidante, a friend and a grandmother.
“They expect me to be here,” Schuck said. “If I come in late for some reason they usually cheer, they like the idea of having someone they can rely on.”
Starting and staying
When Schuck retired from her 43-year teaching career, she didn’t expect to end up back in the classroom.
But when her daughter, Holly Grant, asked her to help while she did one-on-one testing for a week, she just couldn’t say no.
And when the week ended, Grant just kept coming.
“I realized I was perfectly at home,” she said. “It didn’t make me nervous and I didn’t have any fears because working with the children was what I always loved to do.”
On a typical day, you might find her off to the side reading with one of the children or reviewing a lesson with a group of students.
Grant said it’s great having her mother in the classroom day in and day out.
“She has a great rapport with the children because she’s a combination teacher-grandma,” she said. “Grandmothers are nurturing, loving, patient and kind, and she really is all of those things with them.”
As a retired teacher, Grant said, her mother also brings experience to the classroom.
“She has a lot of expertise about teaching and a lot of knowledge about children, so it’s really a win-win situation,” she said. “I’m really lucky and the students are too.
“I think ideally all classrooms would have full-time volunteers.”
Teaching assistant Marilyn Alexander said Schuck helps fill the void when she’s not around. Two assistants work with three first-grade classrooms and head over to lend a hand in fourth grade for about an hour and a half each day.
“I think it’s wonderful that she takes her time to come here and help the children,” she said. “They just love having her here.”
Working together
Grant said working alongside her mother every day has only strengthened their relationship.
“It’s a really great thing for us to do together because you can only go shopping so many times,” she said. “It’s a good way for us to spend a large quantity of time together and do something productive.”
Schuck said the two have a “wonderful working relationship.”
“We really rarely have a disagreement,” she said.
Schuck said there are times when her daughter is tougher on the children than she is, but she admits that’s probably because she’s the teacher, not a volunteer.
“We balance each other out really well,” Grant said.
No ‘retirement’ ahead
Schuck said her friends constantly tease her about all the things she can do when she “retires” from her volunteer gig at Overton.
But she doesn’t see that happening anytime soon.
“Right now, I have no reason to stop doing it because my health is good,” she said.
Schuck said she’s actually enjoyed volunteering more than teaching.
“You don’t have parent conferences, and you don’t have all the paperwork. You just get to work with the children,” she said. “I get much more out of it than the children do.”
Getting involved
Overton isn’t the only school that gets frequent visits from Schuck. She also volunteers an hour every Thursday at Isenberg Elementary. That opportunity came about through her church, First United Methodist.
“I work with a group of about three or four children at the math center,” she said.
Schuck said she’d like to see other senior citizens get involved at the schools.
“Even if you aren’t a teacher, it’s not hard to help a child,” she said. “There really isn’t a down side.”
And Schuck said she doesn’t expect people to volunteer all day, every day like she does at Overton.
“An hour a week is helpful,” she said. “It shows the students that there are people out there who love them, who care about them and who want to help them”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.