Students, residents benefit from intergenerational classes

ELMHURST, Ill. (February 2015) — When Timothy Christian High School added an interim term, called “Renew,” it was an opportunity for students to experience new things. For some students, that meant intergenerational learning.

Timothy teachers created classes for the school’s new nine-day term, and five of them included interaction with residents at next-door senior living community Park Place of Elmhurst.

Park Place’s Mary T. Small, right, talks with Timothy student Kaitlyn Gehrke in the “Beyond Texting — the Art of Conversation” class, part of Timothy’s new interim term called “Renew." The class took a trip to Park Place to practice their conversation skills in an outing that was fun and beneficial to students and residents alike.

Park Place’s Mary T. Small, right, talks with Timothy student Kaitlyn Gehrke in the “Beyond Texting — the Art of Conversation” class, part of Timothy’s new interim term called “Renew.” The class took a trip to Park Place to practice their conversation skills in an outing that was fun and beneficial to students and residents alike.

Timothy and Park Place have worked together many times in the past, as part of their intergenerational program, Bridges. The program includes a Park Place booster club that supports Timothy soccer, and Timothy “technical advisers,” who help Park Place residents program their remote or hook up their printer. Student artists can show their work in the Park Place Gallery, and Park Place residents host Ping-Pong games against students every other week.

Some students volunteer regularly with the program, but for others, the Renew classes gave them their first experience with intergenerational learning.

In some of the Renew classes, Park Place residents were teaching their young visitors:

  • “Beyond Texting” was advertised to teenagers who could learn a few things about interpersonal communication. At the end of the course, they went down the road to try out their communication skills with the resident experts. “I enjoyed the conversation,” said Park Place resident Ron Blackford. “In a short time, I felt like I really got to know them (the students he met with), and they were interested in me, too.”
  • In “D-Day: Invasion of Europe,” students examined the Normandy D-Day invasion in a variety of ways, including talks with re-enactors, movies and a visit to Cantigny. They also got to talk to Park Place residents who had lived through the war themselves – some in combat, some on the home front. “Listening to their stories made our history notes come alive,” said Timothy senior Jack Truax.
  • The “Superwoman” course allowed Timothy girls were able to try a wide variety of fitness options, including yoga, weights, spin classes – and a fitness class at Park Place. “The girls appeared to be in awe of what 70-, 80- and 90-year old women can do,” Park Place’s Peggy Cashman said.

Other classes had students and residents learning side by side:

  • “Let the Games Begin” was a particularly interactive experience: the Timothy class met each day to learn the “game of the day” before transitioning to Park Place to practice with residents. They played Rummikub and Hearts, Ping-Pong and billiards, Wii bowling and Wii golf.
  • And in another class, residents agreed to read and discuss the popular book-turned-movie “Divergent” by Veronica Roth. The idea was to investigate the viewpoints of different generations. “I was very impressed with the three girls I met with,” said Park Place resident Marcia Fleming. “We discovered the differences between our generations, but also the similarities.”

All of the classes had benefits for the residents and students alike, as well as for the Bridges program — the sign-up sheet for Ping-Pong, which usually had about five students before Renew, is now limited to the first 10 students.

“It was amazing,” said Jay Evenhouse, Timothy’s director of alumni relations, and the Bridges liaison for Timothy and Park Place. “The students realized that people of that generation are not scary. Most residents are very excited for the students. They remember what it was like to be a teenager, but have had a lifetime of experiences to filter those ideas and emotions and give them clarity. Technology and social norms may have changed, but the roots of life, overcoming obstacles, dealing with others, growing toward maturity, have not.”

Timothy plans to continue Renew, and Park Place of Elmhurst Life Enrichment Director Lisa Stoik hopes that it will continue to further the Bridges program.

“The intergenerational program has been part of the vision for Park Place since before it even opened, but Renew brought in a lot of teachers and students who haven’t already been here,” she said. “I’m thankful the administration at Timothy Christian High School decided to create the program, because it’s really deepened our relationships, and I know those relationships will continue throughout the year.”

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