By Kelsey Verboom
Students, staff, and seniors of a unique school program that places a Kindergarten classroom in a seniors’ living home were recognized on June 1st for their trail-blazing approach to education.
The program crosses every kind of age border, bringing two Kindergarten classes from Eileen Madson Primary School to attend school in Invermere’s Columbia Garden Village each week. At the seniors’ living home, the students are helped by elderly residents, and in turn, the residents take joy from having the energetic younger generation brightening up their usually quiet home.
“The connection between early learners and all other generations is so strong,” said the school’s principal, Lisa Tenta. “Although it sometimes may not seem like it right away, we are all so connected and we have so much to share with each other.
“There is so much valuable information being passed around through this program. Residents tell the kids about when they were going to school, and other things the kids would otherwise never have the chance to hear.”
The innovative program began when Kindergarten teacher Barb Carriere was reading ‘The Element,’ a book by Sir Ken Robinson. The book tells the true story of a school in the U.S. that follows a similar teaching program.
“I read it, and thought, ‘Why can’t we do this here?’” Ms. Carriere said.
Thirty-eight kids from two Kindergarten classes now attend school weekly at the seniors’ living home, assisted by residents like Fran Kimpton, a retired teacher of 35 years, and Margaret Zimmerman, both regular faces in the classroom.
Since the start of the program, it has gained widespread recognition, including a feature article in The Globe and Mail newspaper.
Golden Life Management, the company that runs Columbia Garden Village, was quick to jump on board with the idea.
“Columbia Garden Village’s intergenerational program is a social vehicle to promote understanding, respect, and sharing of ideas from one age group to another,” said Celeste Mullin, COO of Golden Life Management. “This program breaks down barriers between ages and stereotypes and allows for emotional growth for the children and the residents.”
The atypical teaching approach has brought about a few unexpected outcomes, Ms. Carriere said. In addition to creating a greater awareness and respect between the children and the residents, parents and workers in the home have also become more aware of the senior population.
“The social/emotional learning that goes on is exceptional,” she said. “There are a million magical moments.”
One more magical moment came on June 1st — coincidentally, Intergenerational Day Canada — when students, staff, and residents gathered to receive a trophy and a $1,000 grant from the B.C. Retired Teachers’ Association in recognition of their inspiring work.