April 30, 2014 8:17 pm

Students get paired up with seniors to learn some life lessons

EDMONTON – The Grade 6 students at McKernan school are getting some valuable lessons that can’t be found in a textbook. They come from spending time with seniors.

Eleven-year-olds Bella Wynn and Ella Peters picked their 103-year-old buddy, Myrtle Cottrell, at a seniors residence near their school. For a year and a half, they’ve met with her every month for crafts and stories.

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This week’s visit entailed a visit to the Muttart Conservatory. The girls were mindful of their senior buddy’s limitations — walking slowly by her side, sitting down with her when she needed a rest, and leading her out of an exhibit when it got too hot for her.

“They’re very patient with a gal who’s 103 years old,” Cottrell said with a laugh.

The fact that there are more than nine decades between Cottrell and the girls has only made it more intriguing.

The great-grandmother has shared with them her secret to living as long as she has: “Think positive, treat others the way you want to be treated, and…can’t think of the third.”

The girls recognize the opportunity they’ve been given by being paired up with their senior buddy.

“It’s really cool hearing the stories she tells us from when she was younger ‘cause, yeah, she’s been through a lot,” said Wynn.

The 11-year-old adds it’s kind of like having another great-grandmother, which is nice since hers lives in Saskatchewan.

“It’s been interesting,” added Peters, who also loves talking with her relatively new 103-year-old friend.

Both girls plan to continue their visits with their chosen elder beyond Grade 6, maybe even beyond her next birthday.

Jason Ludwar, the teacher behind the project, explains that the whole idea behind it is to show his students the importance of people, and listening to their experiences.

“Sometimes it’s more valuable and rewarding than what you can learn in a textbook,” he said, “because there’s a personal connection to it.”

He feels that students can sometimes become detached from deeper connections, especially in today’s world where social networks and texting play such prominent roles.

But since starting the program, Ludwar has noticed a change in his students. He believes their communication skills have improved, and they’re less shy.  He guesses that it may have something to do with the fact that they’re being forced out of their comfort zones, and conversing with people outside their typical social circles.

“I think this sets them up to realize that the world is bigger than they are.”

“You can learn a lot from other people, and it’s just a matter of making a connection. And sometimes those little risks you take are the most rewarding things that you’ve done.”

With files from Laurel Gregory, Global News

© Shaw Media, 2014

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