Glen Arbor resident Marg Margetts

Glen Arbor resident Marg Margetts

Engaging with seniors part of the curriculum

Several Grade 8 boys in Williams Lake are getting to know seniors on a personal basis.

Several Grade 8 boys in Williams Lake are getting to know seniors on a personal basis.

Through a course at Lake City Secondary school, the students are paired with a senior at Glen Arbor.

The students visit their assigned senior three times and then prepare a PowerPoint presentation about their new senior friend’s life.

“It is a great way for youth and seniors to start building relationships,” said Carrie Sundahl,  co-ordinator for the Better at Home program in Williams Lake who has been working on the project with teacher Randy Morgan.

“We have seniors who are isolated, lonely and would appreciate visitors,” Sundahl said. “More than 120 clients have shown interest in our Friendly Visitor piece at Better at Home.”

Armed with 35 questions, ranging from where were you born to what are some of the most important lessons you have learned, the students take copious notes.

Sundahl also scans photographs from the seniors for the students to use in the power points, which are later shared at a gathering at Glen Arbor.

Through the experience the youth learn communication skills and the seniors are made to feel their stories matter, Sundahl added.

“It is a win-win situation,” she said.

Glen Arbor manager Tracy L. Rouse described the program as absolutely fabulous.

“The most fascinating thing is when you are looking in on a senior you have no idea what they’ve done in their life and then you hear what they are telling the students,” Rouse said. “It’s all the smiles I see on the seniors’ faces that I like the best.”

Morgan said the interviews with seniors are part of a five-week community leadership course and one component of the required Grade 8 Expo block.

In the course the students engage with seniors, work with the Williams Lake Mountain Bike Club and learn about healthy teen relationships.

To design the course, Morgan approached his principal last year and was given the go-ahead.

For the seniors’ component he collaborated with Sundahl.

On Friday the students were finishing up their interviews with the seniors and poring over photographs together.

“Some days it seems like this program dropped out of the sky,” Morgan said as he watched them from a distance. “It has exceeded my expectations.

While 14-year-old Ian Doherty flipped through 78-year-old Margaret Bitzer’s photo album he said it was interesting how Bitzer’s father made cheese in Ontario and sent it over to soldiers in the war.

Responding Bitzer told Ian she enjoyed hearing about his trip to Northern Italy four years ago.

“It was a great holiday, he really enjoyed himself,” Bitzer said.

Morgan selects five students for each five-week course.

The last group of students helped to rebuild a bike trail on South Lakeside and the next group will probably be shoveling snow for seniors.

Harm reduction worker Jordan Davis from the Williams Lake Boys and Girls Club has been with the course since the beginning, teaching topics such as gender stereotyping, sexual health, sex in advertising, alcohol and drugs.

Davis said she was attracted by the opportunity to meet with the students once a week for the five week course because of the opportunity for good discussions.

“When I meet with students in the schools for one period, they would start to ask questions and the bell would ring,” Davis said, noting for the sexual health component she co-teaches with nurse practitioner Sandy Lachapelle from Thompson Rivers University.

“When we talked about sex in advertising we gave the students magazines to go through and the kids pointed out every time how demeaning the ads are to women,” Davis said.

Last year when Davis and Lachapelle were teaching sexual health to Grade 10s they realized it was important to teach it to younger students because by age 15 it is too late.

“We approached the schools, anticipating there was going to be red tape, and they gave us the green light immediately,” she added.