Christmas cheer is about far more than just swapping presents. For a number of local students and seniors, it’s also about learning to share life.
Starting this fall, sixth graders at St. Anne’s Episcopal School have been meeting regularly with residents of Clermont Park Life Plan Community to swap pens and stories. Each time they come, 12-15 of the school’s sixth graders pair off in ones or twos with residents. Together, they spend an hour asking about their life experiences and wisdom on a variety of provided topics.
“The students get the opportunity to talk with some honored seniors, many from the ‘Greatest Generation.’ They learn how to carry on a conversation with somebody older than themselves, and what that kind of interaction can offer,” shared Father Al, chaplain at St. Anne’s Episcopal School. Father Al is the school’s director of character education which includes various service learning opportunities.
“We bring about a third of the class each time,” he explained. “Our goal is to provide every student in the grade 5-6 times to visit and interview residents.”
As they talk with their older partners, students also capture the stories of their resident by hand writing them into a legacy journal provided by Clermont Park. Their ultimate goal—to create a notebook of each senior’s memories, all collected in one place. This holiday season marks halfway point of the program, and the students’ most recent visit filled the brightly decorated community room with lively conversation on everything from childhood memories to choosing a career.
“What was the hardest thing you ever had to do?” “What were your parents like?” Questions and memories mingled as one resident reminisced about Christmas and another helped with a difficult spelling. Eager young faces leaned in to capture every word.
The creative questions are thanks to Elizabeth Girling, Clermont’s Director of Assisted Living, Nonclinical. Elizabeth was the first one to envision the project, and she helped develop the journals and organize the program with St. Anne’s.
“Our seniors have all led such amazing lives and have such incredible memories to share,” she explained. “Reminiscing and reliving moments from the past is a great way to boost senior and student confidence and comradery.”
So far, the program seems to be doing that, and more.
Late last month, Elizabeth shared that it is already “offering seniors a fantastic way to tell their stories. If it works out, we’re also hoping to type up and combine each resident’s story into a bound book that they can share with their families.”
Next spring, the students and residents will share their experience with the project at a concluding ceremony. Then the sixth-graders will present the journals to every resident’s family. Elizabeth believes that some of the stories the students are capturing may well be ones that residents’ families haven’t even heard.
“We hope family members discover new stories or aspects of their loved one’s life,” she explained. “We also hope it will inspire other people to ask these kinds of questions of their parents and grandparents. The holidays are a perfect time to sit down with family and have these conversations.”
Father Al believes the program is equally beneficial for the 45 sixth-graders. “I’m always amazed at what the kids get out of these experiences,” he shared. “This has become a way for students to understand the value of a life long-lived and connect with the living and oral history here in our community. It’s helping develop our students into people who are lifelong learners and servants who value participation in their future communities.”
Clermont Park Life Plan Community has been providing quality services and care for older adults in the south Denver metropolitan area since l972. If you are interested in learning more about Clermont Park visit clermontpark.org or call 720-974-7275.
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