Valerie Gerst first met the Early Childhood
teachers at Lafayette High
when her grandsons were their students. When Gerst's granddaughter started going to preschool at Lafayette, following Gerst's retirement from a 25-year career as a Rockwood secretary, she started volunteering with the class.
When the preschoolers went to the Lafayette library once a week to check out books, Gerst would join them. She would walk to and from their room to the library with them, read to them and help them pick out books.
Gerst liked it so much that, once her granddaughter moved on to kindergarten two years ago, she kept pitching in. The children call her "Miss Grammy."
"The children are just so sweet and loving. At this age, they're just adorable," said Gerst, who is in her fifth year of "Miss Grammy" duty. "Reading has always been a passion of mine. It's a really good feeling that you get from doing this."
Lafayette preschool teacher Jenny Swihart has been bringing her class for their weekly trip to the library for 11 years. Over that time, Lafayette's librarians have built up a sizable children's book section for the preschool students.
The preschoolers participate in story time with the librarians during their visits, then they get to pick out a book. If they returned one on the way into the library, they can check out another. If they still have their book from last week, they can browse.
"It's our favorite day of the week, for sure," Swihart said. "It teaches our kids to go up to the librarians and ask what their name is, say their first and last name. They learn reading, walking in the hall and that self-regulation of walking up and down the stairs. It's our big outing."
Gerst worked for more than 20 years at Rockwood Valley Middle
before concluding her career at Wildwood Middle
. She had three children – including one of Lafayette's librarians, Jane Lingafelter – go through Rockwood schools.Swihart said that, through her weekly visits, Gerst continues to play an important role in the district.
"We rely on her," Swihart said. "She knows the kids so well. She can see who might be struggling that day, and she may choose to walk with that friend, sit near that friend. She spends so much time with us that she knows what they need."
All of the students want to spend time with "Miss Grammy."
"They give me hugs. They're just so wonderful," Gerst said. "I look forward to it every week."