Reconnecting the Generations: New Charter School Attempts to Recreate Community

David C. Barnett- Earley King lives a busy life, but she says her grandchildren come first. As a custodian for five-year-old Jordan and two-year-old Destiny, Mrs. King wants to make sure they have as normal a childhood as possible. She says that's why she has enrolled Jason in the Intergenerational School - a place that mixes old and young in a common learning experience.

Earley King- The village, raising the child. Everybody has a hand in. To give support. To give that balance.

DCB- The Intergenerational School is housed in a former residence on the campus of the Fairhill Center for Aging on Cleveland's east side. Principal Cathy Whitehouse walks us over to a busy group of students chattering away around several tables in one of the back rooms.

Cathy Whitehouse- The thing that's interesting about this classroom is that one would be hard pressed to look at this group of students and identify the grade level. Which is exactly what we want.

DCB- The children range in age from kindergarten through second grade, but... you really can't tell who's who. Each of the three tables has a different grade-level, with appropriate books spread out in front of them. The room buzzes with a cacophony of kids that falls silent as teacher Margie Snipes signals them with a clap of her hands.

Margie Snipes- Thank you. Is everybody ready? Yellow table, you have enough copies? Okay, let's get busy. (Children at her table start to recite passages from The Farm Concert --- "Moo moo says the cow. Quack quack says the duck....")

DCB- During the course of the day, some of the older children act as mentors to the younger ones, helping out with tougher words. Margie Snipes circulates among the tables, listening and answering questions. The Intergenerational School is only a couple of months old, with two full time teachers and about 30 students. School officials say, gradually, that number will rise to about 100 and encompass grades K-4. But the mix will also include adults over the age of 55 - cited by social critics as a great untapped resource.

Mark Freedman- We have the healthiest, most vigorous, best educated population of older adults in the history of the world that has essentially been squandered by keeping older adults out of the central institutions of American life.

DCB- Former Clevelander Mark Freedman is an expert on the subject of mentoring and he contends that the aging of America has the potential to renew our sense of community - reconstructing something we've lost as families have changed.

MF- It's finding new ways to do old things that used to happen naturally. That we assumed, like the oxygen in the air, but have broken down. It's requiring a new level of creativity, and the creation of new institutions like the Intergenerational School to do that.

DCB- An institution that exists in the family-friendly setting of an old house. Principal Cathy Whitehouse says that while the school's quarters can be a bit tight, they also create an atmosphere that is quite different from a traditional classroom.

CW- And it's nice because, when people walk in - I mean, so many people say, oh, it's so comfortable and homey-feeling. It doesn't feel like a school. And that's exactly what we're trying to get it to be. We don't want school to be different from what real life feels like.

DCB- Earley King watches the children playing in the yard behind the Intergenerational Schoolhouse. Grandson Jason spots her and runs up with a picture that he drew today. Mrs. King is happy for places like this that are becoming part of the village that is raising her custodial grandchild. But she is quick to point out that it is a two-way exchange - the seniors also benefit from this interaction between young and old.

EK- The joy that we sometimes forget when we get busy with our regular everyday schedules. But, when you get a chance to see a child smile or the joy that they get from you taking the time out to hug them or spend time with them. The peace and the reassurance that things are getting better, that this is a good world that we live in. I think that's what the grandparents and the older people get from the children. You know, sometimes we lose that as we grow older and get busier.

DCB- In Cleveland, David C.Barnett, 90.3 WCPN 90.3 FM.

Author Mark Freedman will be in town to discuss his work with senior mentors at a conference called "Ageless Wisdom - Best Practices in Intergenerational Learning". For more information you can call 216-421-1350.

Support Provided By