How do these two programs close the generation gap, and in the process, open the door to a revolutionary learning opportunity?
The purpose of this blog, “A Better Education” is to illuminate the possibilities in store for public education, and how acutely they compare to the reality of it, and find new resources and methods of progressing education in the right direction. Most of these new methods and resources have been confined to “experimental” private schools and institutions, and so far have not been made available to the vast majority of students. We are in the midst of an educational paradigm shift, and it certainly can’t happen overnight.
The good news is, these private schools have done the heavy lifting of progressing education for the rest of us. They’ve taken the initiative and risk, and now they have the evidence to show their methods are effective. Phase one of educational reform is underway. The next step, naturally, will be to implement new proven methods of improving education into public legislation, thus restructuring the public school system.
This section of “A Better Education” is dedicated to discussing these new and improved learning models and imagining how aspects of these methods could eventually be adapted and integrated into public education. Experimental education has been in the works for quite a while, and the results are finally in, and they are undeniable. It’s time to analyze the facts and face the future.
Book Buddies & Shared Studies
Grace Living Center & Jenks School District
It all began in 1998, in Jenks, a suburb of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Almost as if they were fated to unite, it just so happens that the Jenks school district is located directly across the street from Grace Living Center, a home for the elderly. Due to their close proximity, the two institutions arranged an integrated program intended to benefit both parties—the students and the elderly alike--called Book Buddies, “which pairs rotating groups of elders and kindergarten students who read to one another for about 30 minutes several times a week” (Morehouse - “Senior Citizens Help Young Children”).
The partnership has been so immensely beneficial I don’t even know where to begin. The programs benefit the kids, of course, but do wonders for the elderly as well. The vibrant company of youth eliminates their loneliness and boredom. Not only this, but students are also more accepting of the elderly and their physical differences and medical needs than they might otherwise have learned to be. This setting brings the old and young together, in the process eradicating age discrimination at the source.
But each program has its own specific purpose, on top of all of the above.
Book Buddies employs the elders as the perfect audience for young new readers. They possess the necessary patience and appreciation for the students as they tackle tricky sentences and words that they’re still learning. The program has so far produced “remarkable results,” according to Ken Robinson, the author of The Element, who says that “the majority of the children at the Grace Living Center are outperforming other children in the district on the state’s standardized reading tests. More than 70 percent are leaving the program at age five reading at third grade level or higher” (204-205).
This program joins small groups of students and elderly to work together on hands-on activities, including crafts and dramatic reenactments of events in correspondence with their studies. These activities are educational, of course, but also highly creative, and from the students’ point of view, constitute play.
“To promote connections between the generations,” according to Morehouse, “teachers look at class themes through the lens of ‘then and now.’” For instance, during the Healthy Habits unit, the students and the elderly compare the lunch options available today to those available to kids “back then.”
This partnership employs the elderly as mentors for the youth, helping them read, engaging them in fun activities, and discussing the differences between the world today and the one that they grew up in—a scarce and invaluable perspective the next generation desperately needs to be exposed to, considering how rapidly the times are changing. But more so than anything, this partnership makes productive use of a highly wasted human resource: old people. “Instead of whiling away their days waiting for the inevitable,” as Robinson describes it, “they have a reason to get up in the morning and a renewed excitement about what the day might bring” (205). Not only that, but “medication levels have been plummeting” (Robinson 205).
The reason I find this so inspiring is the elderly who have so much to offer have gone so woefully neglected. They have the better part of a century of life experience behind them, and so much wisdom and knowledge to share, and yet the younger generation is kept mostly separate from the old. We siphon the elderly off into homes in the same fashion we pack up unused Christmas decorations into cardboard boxes. We stowe them well out of the way and take them out only on special occasions.
Why are the elderly so widely regarded as such burdens? Sure they need some extra care physically and medically, but like I said, their minds have so much more to offer than we give them credit for. Also, they do possess one asset that the rest of us are desperately lacking: That is time, and as we all know, time is money. And the elderly have oodles. They have the perfect disposition to work with kindergartners because they’re patient, and because they’re not scrambling to manage thirty to forty kids at once, the children have someone to actually take the time to stumble over words with them, one on one. “Here, we have elders,” says GLC president Don Greiner, “who our society has parked somewhere, having that impact. This is an opportunity for them to mean something and be something” (“Senior Citizens Help Young Children”).
The partnership between the school and living center and the subsequent advances in the students’ academic and social development are impressive evidence that integrating generations can be hugely beneficial to everyone involved. Luckily, we needn’t base all kindergarten classrooms in the middle of assisted living centers. Weekly visits by bus would do just fine. Another possibility would be to offer programs at boys and girls’ clubs and recreation centers and libraries that bring the elderly together with young students in a similar fashion.
Morehouse, Lisa. “Senior Citizens Help Young Children with Reading and Relationships.” Edutopia. Web. 19 January 2014. http://www.edutopia.org/grace-learning-center-prekindergarten-community
Morehouse, Lisa. “How to Build Intergenerational Opportunities for Learning.” Edutopia. Web. 19 January 2014. http://www.edutopia.org/grace-learning-center-prekindergarten-community-how-to
Robinson, Ken. The Element. New York: Penguin Books, 2009. Print.