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Senior Citizens Head Back To School To Help New Jersey Students

FREEHOLD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – The school year is just getting started, and at one at New Jersey elementary school, senior citizens are joining five-year-olds in the classroom.

There's an 80-year age gap between the kindergarteners at Freehold's public elementary school and their classroom volunteers.

"Today they wanted to know 'why is your hair white'... you get lots of questions," volunteer coordinator Helen Coons said.

The "Tools-4-Schools" program buses senior citizens in from the nearby Applewood retirement community once a week.

"We're significantly overcrowded," Freehold Superintendent Rocco Tomazic explained. "We're also underfunded so we don't have all the support teachers we should have and volunteers have allowed us to provide that support."

"She's helping us with letters in the alphabet," one kindergartener told CBS2's Ali Bauman.

There are eight regular volunteers this year, two more than last year's program.

"I'm going to be 88 in December," Joanne Jacobi said.

"Someone said 'you always come back smiling.' I said how can you not smile at a 5-year-old?" a volunteer known as Mrs. K added.

Of the 600 students at the school, 80 percent are living in poverty. For about a fifth of the students, English is their second language.

"It actually really helps with their confidence," teacher Randee Mandelbaum said.

Freehold Borough School District officials add that progress made in kindergarten shows up in their test scores when they move to first grade. It's hard to say which generation is benefiting the most from Tools-4-Schools.

"I have very little I feel responsible for anymore so now I'm very responsible for this hour, hour and a half I spend with these children every week," volunteer Barbara Allen said.

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