In 2016, 40 percent of Lakewood Elementary School students were being raised by a grandparent. That’s a stunning statistic considering that kids being raised by grandparents sometimes struggle with behavioral issues, and behavioral issues can cause problems with academics.
This year, that number dropped to 15 percent, but Lakewood principal Kelly Hayes thinks that’s a temporary dip, with more in the pipeline.
“What we’ve also noticed at Lakewood is our low [socioeconomic] status has grown over the course of these six years by 12 percent, which is huge,” Hayes said.
This low SES status correlates with the rise of grandparents as primary caregivers, since older adults tend to have fixed incomes that aren’t high.
Sara Anderson is a developmental psychologist at West Virginia University. She said research shows poverty is associated with low academic achievement and less access to all kinds of resources.
“So the potential [isn’t there] to put them in private school, for example, save for college, and continually provide those resources,” said Anderson
Despite lack of resources, more than one teacher told me that students being raised by grandparents seem to be doing pretty well.
“Most of the ones with grandparents – I guess it’s like 50-50 – the majority of them actually do better,” said Suzanne Lucas, a second-grade teacher at Lakewood and a grandmother raising two grandchildren. There’s not a whole lot of data on whether the anecdotal evidence Lucas gives is true broadly speaking. Studies looking at the academic impact of grandparents raising grandchildren are more than a decade old. Meanwhile, the sheer number of grandparents raising grandchildren has grown to what WVU’s Anderson calls “unprecedented.”
At Lakewood Elementary, fifth-grade teacher Jessica Blake said sometimes the grandparents are MORE involved than parents because they really want to do right by the kids in their care. And that involvement helps.
“Academically, I mean my grandparents are absolutely wonderful, they want to do everything they can for them,” said Blake. “They want to come to meetings, they show up, they say ‘what can I do to help,’ they want their grandchild to succeed.”
But grandparents do seem to struggle when it comes to behavioral issues that cause a child to act out or to be less attentive.
“Behavioral [issues] seems to be, I think, the biggest thing where I’m seeing it more. Because sometimes the grandparents don’t know how to discipline them,” said Blake.
And when kids act out, their academics suffer.
“Typically, because behavior is linked to academic achievement in most cases, where they aren’t able to pay attention in class, they miss a lot of the curriculum,” said Kelly Hayes.
Hayes said while grandparents are more involved, they are also harder to communicate with through modern means.
“Now we serve all our midterms and reports online, and so oftentimes we have to teach a grandparent how to link into that to see the report online or even communicate with the teacher,” she said.
No matter how technology savvy the grandparents are, though, just navigating the system can be overwhelming. Throughout this series, the chorus I heard over and over again, is “we need more support.”
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Marshall Health, Charleston Area Medical Center and WVU Medicine.