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90-year-old volunteer loves listening to kids read

Oxford resident Clare Sheridan (right), 90, listens as Clear Lake fifth-grader Brendan Crabill reads a story he wrote. (click for larger version)
June 08, 2011 - Clare Sheridan is truly an inspiration, not to mention a real sweetheart.

For months now, the delightful 90-year-old Oxford resident has been volunteering her time at Clear Lake Elementary.

"It's fun to be around young children," said Sheridan, who was beaming from ear to ear. "It's a lovely school. They're awful nice kids here."

Every Wednesday, like clockwork, Sheridan's been visiting the school from about 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.

"She's never missed a day," said fifth-grade teacher Lynae Farmer. "She's so reliable."

During her visits, the fifth-graders read to Sheridan, who used to live in Madison Heights and spent 25 years working for Hudson's department store at Northland Center.

The students read everything from original stories they've written to books they're currently enjoying. They also share projects they've worked on.

"I like to hear the kids read," Sheridan said. "I'm legally blind, so I can't read anymore."

Farmer loves the "grandmotherly-way" that Sheridan interacts with students.

"She always says something positive about their writing," she said. "She always asks them questions and talks about their strengths."

But Sheridan also brings an "old school perspective" in that she isn't afraid to point out things like the need for proper punctuation, according to Farmer.

"She remembers from week to week what they've read to her and she comments to them, or to us, how they've improved over time," noted fifth-grade teacher Jackie Wiscombe.

Wiscombe was walking her dog when she first met Sheridan, who was shoveling snow. Sheridan, who lives just down the street on W. Drahner Road, asked if she could visit the school and have the kids read to her.

Sheridan is now probably the school's most popular volunteer.

"Everybody scrambles to get her time," Farmer said. "My students are like, 'Do we have to share her with the other classes today?'"

"The kids really enjoy spending time with her," Wiscombe said. "She eats lunch with the kids. She's been a nice addition to our Clear Lake family."

"She's really an inspiration to be 90 years old and still volunteering and wanting to be here," Wiscombe added. "I think it's as important to her as it is to us."

Sheridan is extremely impressed with how much the students already know and are continuing to learn everyday.

She talks about them as if they're her own grandchildren.

"One little boy's into computers and he's going to make his own web page," she said. "Boy, they're so smart. It's interesting to see how well they develop."

Sheridan's also impressed with the students' behavior.

"They're all so friendly and nice to you," she said. "They're so polite here. Some of the kids need more of that in the (other) public schools."

Wiscombe and Farmer wish more residents, particularly senior citizens, would volunteer at the schools.

"They can see what we're doing and it gives the kids one more connection with the community," Wiscombe said.

"We haven't tapped that valuable resource," Farmer said. "Getting our seniors involved in the school, I think, is really important. They have just as much (of a) vested interest as we do as parents and teachers."

Sheridan highly recommends the whole volunteer experience.

"More people should do it because they'd find out how nice children will treat you," she said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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