Eye to Eye

By Christie Brugger


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In 2001, Sharon Mackenzie, veteran teacher, educational consultant and founder of i2i Intergenerational Society created what is now the highly successful and acclaimed Meadows School Project. The idea for this pilot project stemmed from the distinct disconnect between the youth and seniors of her community and broader society. Sharon observed the segregation between generations both physically and socially. Children and seniors rarely got the chance to know each other in a meaningful way. She saw the dissociation of elder relatives from the young as a rising impediment in intergenerational understanding. So, Sharon decided immersion might be the answer.

Unlike the more common youth and senior bridge-building initiatives in which students visit senior “buddies” weekly or for special occasions, the Meadows School Project is characterized as a fully immersed program, where an entire class of intermediate students moves into a makeshift classroom at a senior community. Participation by the residents of Coldstream Meadows Retirement Community was voluntary, which allowed the seniors their choice of days, times, and the ability to opt-out, if they wished. For two months of the school year, five weeks in the fall and three weeks in the spring, students and seniors melded their day through sharing stories, fitness, special events, celebrations, crafts, sing-a-longs, lunch and daily visitations, all while covering government-mandated curriculum.

For those involved, it wasn't long before they realized this was a step in the right direction. Stereotypes were breaking-down; seniors shared their wisdom, while students shared what it's like to grow up in today's world. A five-year senior participant speaks highly of his experience, "I am very proud to be asked to be with the children and share their problems, and to be able to help them anyway I can... It has been a pleasure to share in their development. At 88 years of age, it has done well for me walking and shooting pool with the group. I love them!"

The lives of both seniors and students have been greatly impacted and enriched because of this amazing learning experience. One 91-year-old resident says that, "Children ask intelligent questions, stimulating my brain as I pass on memories long forgotten, but which come back to me as I see how interested in the past these young students are.” Students learn social and personal responsibility through daily involvement with the seniors, and important public service tasks at the seniors’ residence. With such positive feedback, it wasn’t long before the intergenerational project grabbed the attention of the provincial and federal governments, community organizations, celebrities, media and international supporters.

In the summer of 2008, after seven years of running the project, Sharon stepped out of the classroom for the final time and started a journey across Canada to encourage other teachers to seek more community-connected ways for their students. She created the i2i Intergenerational Society of Canada (helping generations see eye to eye), a not-for-profit society that strives to promote and support sustainable intergenerational activities between schools, communities and health-care facilities.

Today, Sharon is developing a national curriculum kit for Grades 4-6, focused on elder abuse and its prevention, for the Public Health Agency of Canada. She is also working with the International Federation of Ageing (IFA) and the International Network of Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) to create an international kit for youth aged 15-19 on broadening awareness of elder abuse. This involves working on a three-year pilot with five high schools across Canada for total community involvement in intergenerational connecting.

The i2i society is striving for June 1st to be officially recognized as Canadian Intergenerational Day, where generations can come together to celebrate their similarities and differences in order to create a mutual understanding and respect. For Sharon and the i2i society, meaningful interaction between generations is the starting point of building a healthy community - and society.

For more information, visit the website at www.intergenerational.ca

JULY 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND

 

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