One afternoon in early December, students from East Syracuse Elementary School and a group of local senior citizens sipped on hot chocolate and created marshmallow snow people. They are all part of an intergenerational program at the school.
“Mary and I thoughtfully put our heads together and realized the greatest resource we have is our senior citizens in the community. The cost is free but the experience is priceless.”
– Denise McGinley, Third grade teacher at East Syracuse Elementary
Joan Tolhurst, affectionately known as ‘Grandma T,’ has been part of that program since the beginning. “It’s just an amazing program because some of these kids don’t have grandparents and they’re from broken homes,” she says. “One of the first boys I had graduated a year ago. He remembered me and said he enjoyed the whole program.”
Denise McGinley and Mary Albanese started the intergenerational program 13 years ago in response to a strategic plan by the district. “A question was posed: How can we build relationships beyond the school walls and with whom?” says McGinley. “Mary and I thoughtfully put our heads together and realized the greatest resource we have is our senior citizens in the community. The cost is free but the experience is priceless. Everyone was on board and supportive of this intergenerational program which has become a passion for Mary and me.”
One of those people is Tom Richardson, the director of Parks and Recreation for East Syracuse. He was already running a program on Mondays and Wednesdays at Heman Street School Apartments when the school approached him about the opportunity.
“It turned into a great event,” Richardson says. “The kids love it; the seniors love it. It keeps getting stronger every year.”
Each month, McGinley’s third grade class and Albanese’s second grade class visit the “Keener Seniors” in East Syracuse, usually on separate days. The activity varies each time. In the past, students and their senior counterparts have made applesauce, worked on garden projects and played games. The second and third grade classes also create a placemat for each visit, featuring the activity they’ll be doing on the front, and a summary of what they are currently learning on the back. Many of the “Keener Seniors” are from East Syracuse, and are able to share stories about the area’s history with the students.
It turned into a great event. The kids love it; the seniors love it. It keeps getting stronger every year.
– Tom Richardson, Director of Parks and Recreation for East Syracuse
McGinley and Albanese say, “The children are learning far more than they could learn from a book. This experience is a true example of what the youth and aging can gain from one another. It’s a win-win for all. Students are also learning a hands-on approach about respecting their elders, doing for others, seeking first to understand by listening with their entire body, especially their heart, and not looking for anything in return.”