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It’s All About Education: The Benefits of Intergenerational Programs

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

 

A three-year-old sits on a sofa with an octogenarian, reading a Dr. Seuss book. At a table nearby, several preschoolers and elderly people chat while eating their snacks. Later that afternoon, the children have a music and movement class using multi-colored, floaty scarves; several seniors decide to join in, some while standing, some from their wheelchairs. 

This is the Intergenerational Learning Center (ILC) in West Seattle, Washington. In a building that houses more than 400 older adults, the center also serves approximately 120 children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 6 years. The center has been in operation since 1991 and is the subject of a documentary film currently in production, Present Perfect. 

And the ILC is not the only one of its kind. There is a list of award-winning intergenerational programs on Generations United, located on the east coast, west coast, and several states in between. The JEWEL program, for example, in Mount Kisco, NY, brings children from the Mount Kisco Child Care Center together with their “grandmas” and “grandpas” from My Second Home, an adult day care center, every day for a variety of activities. 

Research shows that programs such as these benefit both the children and the older adults. Participating children often exhibit higher self-esteem, improved behaviors, and stronger social-emotional skills.  The warm, caring relationships forged with older adults provide an opportunity for mentoring and positive vocabulary development. 

Elderly participants in these programs report feeling happier and less isolated. They have improved health outcomes, and those diagnosed with dementia exhibit more positive affect. A Duke University study found that older adults who are engaged in social and community activities maintain their mental and physical health longer than other older adults. 

As our population ages, we need to expand access to programs such as these. Approximately 14% of the United States is 65 or older; by 2030, that percentage is expected to grow to 19%. While one million Americans live in assisted-living facilities today, that number is expected to double by 2030. There are also numerous eldercare/adult day care programs offered in communities throughout the nation. 

Most of us recognize the strong bond that can exist between a child and a grandparent. My children were lucky enough to grow up with several grandparents, and they enjoy(ed) special relationships with each of them. An older adult can often share not only encouragement and warmth, but also wisdom and experience. Seniors can serve as both role models and inspiration. 

Intergenerational programming must be intentional and well-planned. It is not as simple as housing an early childhood educational facility on the grounds of an assisted living or eldercare facility. Opportunities for interaction should be designed to be mutually beneficial, incorporating music and art, physical activity, literacy and storytelling, among other things. In addition, all participants should feel safe and respected at all times. 

In Rhode Island, the Alliance for Better Long Term Care has been running an intergenerational program, Building Bridges, for 26 years. School-age children and teenagers visit nursing homes throughout the state from one to two times each month, enabling them to develop relationships with the residents. Joann Leonard, Operations Officer and the founder of the program, told me she loves her job: “Every time I see the kids and the seniors together, I know I’ve made a difference in someone’s life.” 

Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, the number of schools participating in the program has dropped from 50 to 12. Ocean Tides School brings their students to Scallop Shell Nursing and Rehabilitation Center every two weeks; both the boys and the residents look forward to their rousing game of basketball. Peace Dale Elementary School students visit their local nursing home once each month; some of the students have built such strong relationships with the residents that their families have invited them to dinner, and a few of them have even gone to visit before the prom! 

Leonard points out that the Building Bridges program is beneficial to all involved. Nursing home residents may not have regular visitors because their families may be out of town or they may have few living relatives; having visits from young people gives them something to look forward to and helps them pass the day joyfully. The young visitors gain an appreciation and respect for their elders. They may also become more understanding of various disabilities. 

However, Rhode Island has no early childhood education facilities that are involved in intergenerational partnerships. Part of the reason may be proximity; after all, it is much easier to visit an eldercare facility or nursing home regularly if the children do not need bus transportation to get there. While some schools practice community outreach by sending students to sing with or read to nursing home residents periodically, those visits do not facilitate the warm and ongoing relationships fostered by regular interactions with the same people. 

Joan Kwiatkowski, CEO of PACE Organization and CareLink, says, “While there are inherent challenges to intergenerational programs, such as health regulations and transportation issues, they do provide benefits to the children, the seniors, and the larger community.“ ILC in Seattle has solved some of these problems by housing an early childhood center on the same campus with an eldercare facility, and advertising both programs as part of an intergenerational partnership. Maybe instead of viewing problems as insurmountable, we should all look for creative solutions.   

Lauri Lee is an independent consultant with over twenty years of experience in both public and private education, with learners from infants through adults. With experience in teaching, marketing, communications, social media, development, admissions, and technology, she is able to synthesize many of the issues facing our educational system today. She lives in Providence, RI with her family, a big dog, and a small cat. She blogs at http://www.AllAboutEducation.net and you can follow her on Twitter at @fridovichlee. 

 

Related Slideshow: RI Experts on the Biggest Issues Facing Public Education

On Friday November 22, the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Latino Policy Institute of Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Providence Student Union, and RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now will host Rhode Island leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors for a symposium on "the civil rights issue of the 21st century, adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."

Weighing in on the the "three biggest factors" facing education in the state today are symposium participatnts Gary Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Leadership; Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Executive Director of RI-CAN; Anna Cano-Morales, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Central Falls Public Schools and Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University; Tim Duffy, Executive Director, RI Association of School Committees; and Deborah Cylke, Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools.  

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Sasse

"Provide a state constitutional guarantee that all children will have access to  an education that will prepare them to meet high performance standards and be successful adults.

Bridge the gap between the educational achievement of majority and minority students.  This will require the implementation of a comprehensive agenda for quality education in Rhode Island’s inner cities."

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Sasse

"Revisit school governance and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the state, school districts , neighborhood schools, and school teachers and school administrators.  Develop and implement a system to hold schools responsible for student outcomes."

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Sasse

"Build a consensus and buy in of all stakeholders around  the education reform initiatives being advanced by the Board of Education."

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Metcalfe

"Set high expectations and raise our standards across the state for anyone that contributes to the success of our students. From adopting the Common Core to discussing rigorous teacher evaluations, conversations around creating a culture of high expectations have to be at the center of the work."

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Metcalfe

"Expand opportunities and start earlier - we must ensure that all kids have access to a high performing public school of their choice, which includes full-day kindergarten."

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Metcalfe

"School facilities - with an aging infrastructure, underutilized buildings and the need to provide fair funding for school facilities for all public school students regardless of the public school they attend, this needs to be a top issue tackled by the RI General Assembly in 2014."

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Cano-Morales

"Meet the academic potential of all students but especially with regards to urban schools students -- 3 out of 4 are Latinos in Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket." 

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Cano-Morales

"Connect through specific best practices the academic successes of our students to careers jobs. Investing in schools is economic development as a whole for Rhode Island. " 

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Cano-Morales

"Increase the access to -- and completion of -- higher education and post- secondary opportunities.  Poverty? Struggling families? Education and access to careers and competitive wages is the best antidote."

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Duffy

"Providing adequate funding is critical -- and there are going to be pressures on the state budget, which mean stresses to meet the education funding formula.  With the predictions of the state's projected loss of revenue with the casinos in MA, education funding could be on the cutting board, and we need to ensure that it's not.  Do we need to look at strengthening the language of the constitution to guarantee funding?"

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Duffy

"Implementing the common core standards will provide continuity -- and comparison -- between states now.  With over 40 states involved, we're embarking a new set of standards here."

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Duffy

"Accountability and assessing student performance -- how that it's driven by the common core, we'll be able to compare the best districts in RI against the best districts in say MA.  That's the intent of the Common Core is a standardization of how we hold the system accountable."

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Cylke

"Issue one is quality.  Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code.  And the reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. There's an absolute, clear relationship between the quality of public schools, and economic development of states. There's irrefutable evidence that quality public schools can make states more competitive."

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Cylke

"Issue two is equality.  In West Warwick and Providence, the per pupil spending is around $16K.  In Pawtucket it's $12.9.  What's wrong with that picture? If I'm in charge of overseeing that my students are college ready, they need to be adequate funding.  A difference of $3000 per pupil?  We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars -- more like $25 million in this case.  An exemplary school district is Montgomery County, MD -- they have roughly the same number of students, around 145,000 -- there's one funding figure per pupil. There's equitable funding for all kids."

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Cylke

"Issue three is Infrastructure.  A critical issue is whether the state is going to lift its moratorium in 2014 for renovations for older schools, ore new construction.  If that moratorium is not lifted, and those funds are not available, it is critical to us here in Pawtucket. The average of my schools is 66 years, I've got 3 that celebrate 100 years this year. These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained.  These are assets -- and this is all interrelated with the funding formula."

 
 

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