"Grandpa Mark" is a school treasure. Just ask the students and faculty at Washington Elementary School in Mundelein.
Students are so in love with Mark Stein that the school has worked him into a full-time volunteer job, helping out in kindergarten through second-grade classes. For the past three years, Stein has volunteered at Washington from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Grandpa Mark, as he is called, works with kindergartners on numbers and with second-graders on word games and whatever else the teachers may need in assistance.
"Kindergartners are a whole lot of fun to watch as they learn. They have such expressions on their faces when they learn and finally get it -- it's just amazing to see," said Stein, 61.
One student who works with Stein is Jacob Hall, 8.
"He is focused on helping us. I feel a lot smarter after he leaves," Jacob said.
Stein started volunteering after he retired from his engineering job at AT&T four years ago. His daughter handed him a flyer that said Washington School needed volunteers.
It just so happened that his grandson Max Weir, now 8, was starting kindergarten at the same time, so he asked the teacher if he could volunteer in Max's kindergarten class. She said yes, and he's followed Max straight through ever since.
"He is in second grade this year. … Next year he moves to Mechanics Grove School across town for third grade. I have to talk to the third-grade teacher to see if she needs a volunteer in her class, but I think I might come back here and work with kindergartners," Stein said.
So how did he get the moniker "Grandpa Mark?"
Kindergarten teacher Mary Weeks asked him when he started what he wanted to be called. Mr. Stein sounded too formal, Mark sounded too informal for kids. Weeks suggested Grandpa Mark, and it stuck.
"He helps out at their work stations, so when I'm with reading groups, he's walking around helping the kids stay on task," said second-grade teacher Heidi Sansone. "He is so patient with the kids -- an excellent role model for them."
Stein, who during his free time enjoys biking and kayaking with his grandson, says it's been a learning experience for him too.
"I never knew how to teach a kid to learn until I observed teachers doing it," he said. "They were my mentors; I kind of picked that up. And it's been very rewarding for me, watching 5-, 6-, 7-year-olds learn."