MAPLETON – Classroom environments may look very different to today’s seniors, but the key lessons they’ve learned in life will now be part of the curriculum for students in Teszalyn Roantree’s grade 4/5 class at Maryborough Public School.
With the launch of the GrandPals Project, pairing seniors and students, Roantree’s hope is that her students will have plenty to teach their new senior friends too.
“This intergeneration connection will bridge the gap between young children and seniors,” Roantree said.
“It will allow seniors to bring back memories from when they were in school, and it will allow my students to see into their futures and understand the challenges seniors may face daily. I hope this program creates a bond between two people that will extend into the community.”
Roantree first experienced the GrandPal Project while teaching at several schools in Orangeville.
“This program was originally created at Montgomery Public School and then was picked up by Parkinson Centennial Public School,” Roantree said.
“I thought that the program was such an amazing way to connect children with stories and experience from the past, as well as allow seniors to meet new children and have someone to talk to. The influence seniors can have on children is tremendous and the intergenerational conversation can scientifically help seniors with loneliness.”
Roantree brought the program to the Seniors’ Centre for Excellence to talk about a partnership and found immediate support with Helen Edwards, program coordinator and Glynis Belec, the centre’s A.C.E. coordinator.
“Pairing students who are just starting out on their life journeys with older adults who have a wealth of experience under their collective belts just seems so right,” said Belec.
“Seniors have life experiences and stories to share. Both children and adults are encouraged to share and ask questions.”
Belec adds, “Tesza has some wonderful ideas about implementation, and we are on board to hopefully help foster some beautiful relationships.”
The Seniors’ Centre for Excellence is a virtual centre, funded through the Ontario Health Integration Network, that coordinates support services and programs for seniors across north Wellington, meeting in a variety of venues such as churches and community centres.
Edwards said they serve over 800 individuals each year through a variety of programming.
“We’ve always been interested in intergenerational programming. We see a real value in that,” Edwards said. “We have worked in the past on a few different projects that involved youth and seniors, and we saw the benefit to both younger and older generations.”
Roantree’s students average age is nine and ten years old. Her goal is to have them meet with their GrandPals every other week with topics to encourage conversation.
“These themes will range from “What is home to you?” “ What does family mean to you?” “What was work like?” “Have you traveled and where?,”” Roantree said, noting other topics may include the teaching of games between seniors and students, sharing favourite recipes, and introducing seniors to technology.
Edwards believes the GrandPals program is an ideal way to bring young and older together to create a connection and to realize that they have more in common than they think.
“We know that there are two groups of people who suffer from ageism or live with ageism on a regular basis, and those are seniors and youth. And so, they already have something in common,” Edwards said, noting the opportunity to spend quality time together is valuable for both groups.
“I think many seniors don’t get a chance to interact with youth on a regular basis, so the benefits of interacting with youth is they have a lot of energy and they bring a different dynamic I think to a relationship,” Edwards said.
“And I think it helps a senior to feel valued as a valuable member of the community.”
Edwards adds, “It’s a community building activity for sure.”
Edwards said the goal for senior participation is approximately 20 seniors. She and Belec are getting the word out to the Seniors’ Centre for Excellence community via Facebook and their monthly newsletter and talking about the program with seniors at their gatherings.
“We would discuss the project with them a little bit further to make sure that it’s a good fit for them, and if they have interest in being in the project, then we would move on to the next stage, which would be getting their information and speaking to the teacher,” Edwards said.
Edwards said the seniors who have already signed up to become a GrandPal are excited about the opportunity and Belec hopes that momentum continues.
“What better way to keep our seniors active, connected, and engaged than to pair them with children who, in turn, will learn the importance of respect, the value of seniors, how not all older adults are the same, the significance of community, and so much more,” Belec said.
“The hope is that once a trust relationship is fashioned, a bond will be formed and then a connection or memory will last a lifetime.”
Roantree wants the program to encourage a new culture, a new friendship between the youth and seniors, inspiring her students to feel a respect for their GrandPals and a willingness to learn from them, while giving the senior participants a sense of leadership and joy.
“I want my students to see and feel how important community is in their life and how they can make a difference in someone’s day, week, and life,” Roantree said.
She has a vision for the program throughout the term.
“As the program evolves the students will be writing about their experiences each day and creating a story about the senior they will be meeting with. These stories will be collaborated and made into a book to give to our GrandPal at out final GrandPals Gala where parents will be invited, and children will speak and share about their GrandPals,” Roantree said.
She also hopes the program has longevity.
“I hope this program continues to happen year after year. I hope students in our school look forward to coming into my classroom knowing that they will be connected with a GrandPal and all the fun that comes from it,’ Roantree said.
She also has high hopes for the success of the program beyond Maryborough Public School, to become a board-wide program.
“As educators it is our job to teach the curriculum, but it is also our job to teach community, empathy, respect, compassion, work ethic, and so much more.
“These qualities are learned through experiences and who better, then, to share those experiences and wisdom with us then GrandPals who have experienced joy and heartache throughout their entire lives,” Roantree said.
For seniors seeking more information on the GrandPals program or to register call 519-638-1000, or visit mapleton.ca/living-here/senior-services/seniors-centre-for-excellence. To contact Helen Edwards directly, email email@example.com.