When Barb Carriere, a teacher at Eileen Madson Primary (EMP), read The Element, a book by Ken Robinson, Ph.D, there was one particular chapter that stuck out. The chapter had to do with a kindergarten class being run out of a seniors’ centre in Oklahoma, and the results were nothing short of phenomenal. Studies showed the students’ reading levels increased significantly and, for the seniors, their required levels of medication were actually reduced.
“I thought to myself, ‘Why couldn’t we do that here?’” said Carriere.
School principal Lisa Tenta said she was initially both intrigued and excited about the idea, and lent her full support to the project.
“It’s teachers’ passions and good ideas that make things happen in schools,” Tenta explained. “I was happy to be on board and provide any supports that were needed.”
As a result, since December 2010, EMP kindergarten students aged five and six have attended class every Friday at Columbia Garden Village as part of the Intergenerational Project. Thanks to the overwhelming success of the program, they decided to expand it further and, in October 2011, included all the kindergarten students at the school for a total of 42.
“The driving force behind the project was that the results were so phenomenal for the children, and the experiences were so positive,” said Carriere. “It was also very positive for the seniors.”
The way the program works is when students attend class at Columbia Garden Village, the resident seniors are welcome to come and go as they please. Some seniors actively participate in lessons, while others even ask for permission to bring in their own arts and crafts projects to share with the children. Classes still fall within the regular curriculum requirements but, as Carriere explains, there is something extra that the students take away from the whole experience.
“We’re delivering the regular curriculum, but there is a whole other curriculum that unfolds, and that’s the social aspect of children working alongside seniors,” Carriere said. “I think the biggest thing is that it opens everyone’s eyes to one another; we tend to segregate our generations… and this was an opportunity for them to see each other, help bridge that gap and make them more a part of each others lives.”
Both Carriere and Tenta said the feedback from the program has been overwhelmingly positive. They were particularly surprised with the strong response from parents, who have since begun to volunteer with the program and fund some of the costs without even being asked. Seniors also gave strong feedback in which they noted individual students’ growth and progress, and Tenta said many of the seniors were particularly saddened when — at the end of the school year — they discovered the students they had grown to know wouldn’t be returning the following year. Feedback from the students was also positive, with children even asking their parents to return to Columbia Garden Village on their own time to visit. One girl even asked to have her birthday party at the seniors home.
“It’s all about allowing these relationships to develop between the two generations,” said Carriere. “It really works both ways.”
In April, Carriere had applied to the British Columbia Retired Teachers Association (BCRTA)’s Golden Star Awards and recently discovered EMP had been selected to receive an award, which will be presented on Friday (June 1) at Columbia Garden Village.
Each year, the Golden Star Awards are presented to projects that develop “rich and transforming relationships between students and seniors in their communities,” stated the BCRTA in a letter. Along with the award comes a $1,000 award that Carriere said will be used to help fund the program’s costs, including bussing and student supplies.
“It’s really wonderful (to win this award),” said Carriere. “We’re just really excited to use this money to to go towards some of the resources involved.”
EMP’s Intergenerational Program has also gained national exposure in the past, with The Globe and Mail doing a piece on the project in December of 2011. Carriere said this extra exposure has led to her receiving calls from across the province from other teachers interested in implementing similar programs, some of which have already moved forward with the same success, and she would also like to thank Columbia Garden Village and Golden Life Management for all the support they have shown the project since it was first introduced.
In the future, Carriere and Tenta will be exploring the option of expanding the project one step further by having older students attend classes at Columbia House in Invermere.