Students and Seniors: The Magic of Mixing Young and Old

My friend Shannon Webster and I were chatting on some bleachers this past summer while our daughters played ball.  She mentioned she got a new job. She was the activity coordinator for a local senior's home.  She was very enthusiastic and spoke so highly of the residents she worked with that I could not help but become fascinated.  Some were more than one hundred years old.  The stories.  The personalities.  The lived history.  Before long, I found myself suggesting that perhaps the group would enjoy a visit to our high school.  Not only did it seem like an opportunity to make a neat community connection, but it was a chance for our students to engage in something meaningful and real.  Students today long for experiences that dare to go beyond the realm of worksheets and quizzes; they want to do things that matter, that seem authentic.   I know THSS kids, and they really do want to make a difference in the world.   

The plan developed rather simply at first.  Working with our amazing chef, Brian Smith (@THSSculinaryart), our students helped plan, prepare, and serve a nice meal.  They were very excited to consider our seniors as V.I.P.s and worked hard to make sure our guests would have an enjoyable experience.  The chicken pot pie with puff pastry and home made popsicles was a perfect menu choice, and our guests were very complimentary.

But preparing and serving a nice meal was only the beginning. Our amazing Vice Principal Kristi Blakeway (@kblakeway) arranged for our leadership students to join the group after lunch.  The idea was to have the kids engage the seniors in conversation.  We suggested that maybe they could compare high school stories, but it really didn't matter, the point was simply to try and connect in a genuine way.  Within minutes, I stepped back and smiled.  All around the room, the conversations were flowing.  It was a heartwarming sight to behold.

Then I too joined in.  I spoke with retired Principal, Gordon, 84, about education today.  He was bright and engaging and articulate.  I met Charlie, 85, whose family still runs Donovan Limited on Hastings Street in Vancouver.  This business started in 1903.  This was local history at its finest.

Dorothy, a retired nurse, was charming and beautiful and 101 years old.  It was an honour to meet her.  Frank and Eleanour were there too.  They are married, and to hear the story of how they met and how they lived was extraordinary.  The students were totally hooked.  Joan, in her nineties, is the reigning Halloweeen costume contest winner at the residence.  To hear her describe her Egyptian costume was a delight.  Anne and Ida and Helen joined the group as well.  They were wonderful guests and a joy to chat with.

Teacher Nicole Von Krogh politely interrupted the group a few minutes before they were scheduled to leave.  She told them about a school project she is developing for her students.  Tentatively called the 15 Reasons Project the project asks students to identify their top 15 reasons for living.  Students would be asked to collect and share these reasons as part of an assignment.  They might include photographs, stories, artifacts, and more as they try and capture their 15 things.  She wondered if our seniors might want to participate in the project.

And the cool thing is that they did.  So we left them all with homework.  Sure, we agreed to adapt and modify.  Five things would be plenty if that's what feels right for them.  We now plan to have our special guests back every month for lunch and sharing.  I confess I never dreamed that I would assign homework to a 101 year old woman and her group of friends in their 80's and 90's.  But I am so glad we did.  And you know what?  I think they are too.  

Something tells me we will have more stories to come.


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