St. Augustine’s Grade 8 students are building bridges to the seniors’ generation through the Linkages program at their school.
The program teaches compassion and empathy to the students and encourages both groups to look past stereotypes. “Both youths and seniors are groups in society that are victims of stereotypes,” said Tara Newton, program co-ordinator and St. Augustine’s personal counselor.
“We start by training the Grade 8’s on what it would be like to be a senior,” said Newton.
Newton and the students talk about the barriers that come with aging, such as hearing loss, as well as other losses, including the loss of independency, mobility and family. “They’ve lost their families. A lot of seniors live in homes and they don’t get to see their families a lot. They’ve lost their careers.”
Linkages allows the students to visit seniors at Rimoka and Sunrise every three or four weeks. Two students are paired with a senior in a year-long company, playing games and visiting and exploring each other’s lives and what they have to offer the world.
“It’s about making them realize they have more in common than they realize,” said Newton. “A big part is to serve the seniors and get to know them while we are there . . . We want them to feel special. It’s about building friendships and that can be hard,” she added.
To help break the ice under that bridge Newton uses a workbook journal called The Way You Were, which compares the past and present and how times change the way people live.
“It’s kind of neat because it opens up that dialogue,” said Newton.
As the pairings become more comfortable with each other, the seniors begin to tell stories about themselves growing up in a different world than what the students see today. “Those are the best. It’s just magical in itself,” said Newton.
As the program continues many students begin to see the seniors as a friend and extension of their own personal communities. Newton says after a few weeks in the program the students are already arguing over who has the best senior. “They take an ownership, they take pride in who their senior is.”
“I just think there’s empathy being built. You can see their emotional IQ developing,” she added.
Newton says the one drawback of the program is that the school only runs it for Grade 8 students, and while some continue to volunteer afterwards, she feels the community spending time with its seniors shouldn’t be a task and sole responsibility of the school to initiate.