This month’s Edutopia magazine featured none other than our very own Jenks. With a title of “Senior Citizens Help Young Children with Reading – and Relationships” I was pretty sure where the article was going, but was I in for a surprise…
In 1998, Don Greiner started construction of a nursing home in Jenks next door to a district-owned daycare with rundown playground equipment. Mr. Greiner contacted the district about building a playground at the nursing home if children could come and play for residents to watch. From there a great collaboration was born and a playground became much more. Today Grace Living Center in Jenks is part nursing home, part school: permanent home to two classrooms of roughly 60 prekindergarten and kindergarten students and 170 “grandmas” and “grandpas.”
GLC residents wait for children to arrive in the morning and interact with children throughout the day as they are able. Teachers follow the district curriculum while finding unique ways to rely on the help and knowledge of the resident elders. Children and the elders do hands-on activities and dramatic play together. The article sites several examples, including their “book buddies” partnership which pairs rotating groups of residents and kindergartners to read to each other 30 minutes several times a week. Since 2004, Jenks has tracked the number of entering first graders whose reading skills are below grade level. Ten percent fewer GLC students have required reading intervention in the first grade than their peers at the local elementary school.
With a waiting list of children, low staff turnover for nursing home staff, and high satisfaction cited by the elder residents and teachers – the program has drawn attention from around the country in support of intergenerational programs. The article has some great anecdotes and an audio slide show of pictures.
For additional information and more great stories on this also check out a 2002 American Profile Article: School of a Lifetime. Favorite quote: while explaining how snails move around by making a wet trail with their tongues, Ellen Pongrace, a kindergarten teacher asked her students how the snails get around if they don’t have arms or legs. Expecting the children to talk about scooting or wiggling on their bellies, young Christopher has another idea “They could get around on wheels like the grandmas and grandpas.”
Also see a 2002 CNN Live Today transcript of an interview with Don Greiner.
Besides the great stories woven throughout the articles and the program itself, I really liked the idea that a conversation about playground equipment could generate a completely new and innovative school set up. It would be great to learn more about what that process looked like – or examples of other collaborations taking similar paths. Anyone?