Elementary school in long-term care home a first in Saskatchewan

Watch above: A program like no other in Saskatchewan is having an amazing impact on seniors and students alike. Wendy Winiewski has a mid-year update on the first InterGenerational classroom.

SASKATOON – Seniors hold a lifetime of wisdom, children have a thirst for knowledge and a revolutionary classroom concept is bringing the two generations together Monday through Friday in the iGen program. The intergenerational classroom launched at Saskatoon’s Sherbrooke Community Centre in September 2014.

Students from all over the city applied for the program. Twenty were accepted and will complete their Grade 6 education at Sherbrooke.

Lead teacher Keri Albert is midway through an intergenerational writing project, which she says has been one of the greatest lessons so far.

“An example might be transportation,” said Albert. “So, what was it like for them when they were young?” she said referring to the elders in her classroom, “and then the iGen students are talking about what it’s like for them now.”

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The lessons are reciprocated, as residents learn about technology and the fast pace of 21st century children. Cell phones, iPads and computers are in the classroom, and two students spent part of the morning teaching a resident how to play an online game.

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Aside from the curriculum, students learn empathy, compassion, communication and general life lessons.

“It’s creating an appreciation for the humanity of all ages of people,” said Albert.

And the basics remain: reading, writing and arithmetic, just like the old days.

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Budding pianist Sami arrives early every Wednesday for a one-on-one lesson from a resident who plays many songs from memory.

“It’s like the little things that make them smile,” said Sami. “Even saying, ‘Hi’ makes their day and it’s awesome.”

The feeling is mutual. Jodi Grant, a former professor at the University of Saskatchewan, once taught literature in Jamaica. A vehicle accident placed Grant at the care home long before she was ready to give up her career as a teacher.

“It’s just pure heaven,” Grant said , who spent part of the morning reading to the students and interacting with them about the book.

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The program has impacted her as much as the students.

“It’s gone from dismal to super invigorating. Prior to iGen, I had to try really hard to keep going,” said Grant.

The care and service provided at Sherbrooke Community Centre is based on the Eden Alternative philosophy, which attempts to fight the plagues of long-term care: loneliness, helplessness and boredom.

Bringing plants and animals into the environment, along with a daycare, were the first steps. Incorporating a full-time student classroom has been a dream of the centre for years.

“These children bring so much energy and life and excitement to the elders here,” said Sherbrooke spokesperson Patricia Roe.

Applications for the 2015/16 school year will be available to public school students in March. Students will be required to fill out a long answer questionnaire and their parents will also be used as a reference.

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