SAEGERTOWN — While the sun baked the grass outside the French Creek Valley Christian School to a crunchy brown, a different type of warmth was felt inside as about a dozen children packed the couch, chairs and carpet to spend time with a woman who just might be the perfect example of lifelong learning.
Every Tuesday afternoon, 98-year-old Fran Salem drives her little red car from her Harmonsburg-area home to the school to spend about an hour reading and talking with children attending the school's child care school-age summer program. The children know her as "Miss Fran" or sometimes even "Granny Fran."
This is the third summer Miss Fran has spent time reading with the children enrolled in child care, but she's not new to the school. She is a former teacher who has spent more than 15 years volunteering at the facility, according to Donna Collins, administrator and director of the summer program.
Miss Fran was 77 when she graduated from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, having double-majored in elementary education and special education.
"I dropped out of school in ninth grade," she said. "So I finished my education a little later."
On Tuesday, Miss Fran didn't just read to the children. As she rocked back and forth on her wheeled-walker, she picked storytellers from the group to help convey the words, pictures and lessons from a selection of more than a half dozen books she brought along.
One young boy volunteered to stand next to Miss Fran as they told the story of a boy named Kevin who used the reply "just a minute" a little too frequently. Miss Fran did her best impersonation of Kevin, calling out "just a minute" each time his mother asked him to help her with different tasks.
Miss Fran continued the tale, telling the students that instead of helping his mother, Kevin decided to climb a tree. As the music of an ice cream truck approached, Kevin found he needed help to get down from the tree in order to get a treat from the truck.
"As Kevin called out for help from his mother, what do you think she said?" Miss Fran asked the students. "Just a minute."
When Miss Fran asked the students who could remember how the story ended, several hands went up. One young boy stood up from the couch and announced, "I remember loud and clear."
The boy told Miss Fran and the other students that Kevin told his mother he now understood how she must feel when he doesn't do what she asks right away. He added that after the mother helped her son down from the tree, she made him an ice cream cone.
Miss Fran told the students the story was an example of children disobeying their parents.
The stories and lessons continued as the story of a boat crafted by a little boy led to a lesson of how people can drift away from God.
Amidst each story, there are always a few questions posed from Miss Fran to the children. The last story shared on Tuesday had to do with some chickens.
"How many of you have seen a live chicken?" she asked the students. As nearly every hand was raised, Miss Fran clarified, "I don't mean a chicken your mom has fried. I mean one that still has feathers." The hands remained up.
While it's not every day the students get to interact with a spry 98-year-old, reading and learning lessons from what they read is a common practice, according to Collins.
"Each summer the school-agers follow a theme," Collins said. "This year's theme is 'How Things Work: Machines, People and God.'
"The interactive lessons show them the workings of simple machines with opportunities to create and see some of them in action," Collins said. "They are learning about human emotions, bodies, activities and good nutrition."
The students are also learning from Miss Fran that those lessons can last a long time.
Lorri Drumm can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.