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Foster grandparent enjoys helping all students at Nisswa School

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After a busy career in the housing development and municipal government fields, Lake Shore resident Dave Loch became a bit bored after retirement.

“What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?” he kept asking himself.

He saw a request in the newspaper for volunteers at Pequot Lakes School and checked into it. Before he knew it, Loch found himself working not in Pequot Lakes, but in the early childhood program at Nisswa Elementary School as a teacher’s assistant. He was in charge of a 2-year-old autistic boy.

“All I did was haul him around in a wagon. But what broke the ice was when I took him into Mrs. Baker’s class and she had a guinea pig,” Loch said. “I fell in love with that little boy.”

He returned as a teacher’s aide and a foster grandparent, working with Nisswa students from 2006-11, when he took a break because his wife, JoAnn, was retired by then, too. He missed the children, though, and returned as a foster grandparent in Nisswa last month.

Loch, 78, likes challenging those students who are sharp, as well as helping those who are struggling to learn. He especially enjoys helping students with math.

“That’s kind of my forte with the kids here,” he said, adding he also has helped students with reading and spelling.

Loch shared the story of a girl who could multiply but had such a difficult time dividing. He helped her until something just clicked.

“The next day she said, ‘I know how to divide!’” Loch said. “It brought tears to my eyes.”

That’s what he finds most rewarding about working with elementary school students — helping them break through and realize they can learn.

He once helped a second-grader who couldn’t count money. He gave her four quarters and repeatedly said, “25, 50, 75, $1.”

“That’s the part that makes me feel so good. She got it,” he said.

Teachers can’t devote that amount of time to individual students. That’s where volunteers are invaluable. They can give teachers a break and concentrate on those students who are having trouble learning, Loch said.

Nisswa Elementary School has two foster grandparents — Loch and Grandma Doris Bergersen. Loch works with second- through fourth-graders.

“Dave is a very capable volunteer who the children love to work with,” said second-grade teacher Sheree Hansen. “He has been in my room to help reinforce math skills for several years. He is always there on time and takes his work seriously but also has fun with the students.”

Principal Erin Herman said when teachers learned Loch would be returning in January as a foster grandparents, within seconds he was in demand.

Loch volunteers five hours a day, three days a week with the Lutheran Social Service Foster Grandparent program.

“In that program, I think what’s important is that teachers know you’re going to be here,” he said, adding, “This has given me such an appreciation for teaching.”

In the end, it all comes down to watching the students grow in knowledge.

“Some of them are so reticent to try things. Some, I think, are fearful because of new concepts,” Loch said.

“There’s such incredible formation in their minds in those earlier years. It blows my mind to see that follow through, that child’s knowledge base. Watching that develop is incredible.

“There’s so many so eager to learn,” he said.