Guest Columns

Tips for getting students to visit your facility: a teacher's perspective

Barbara Gottschalk
Barbara Gottschalk

“Are you still going to Cherrywood?” former students often ask. Twelve years ago when I began visiting a nearby nursing home with my class of fourth- and fifth-grade English language learners, my goals were simply to give my students authentic opportunities to use English and to introduce these new Americans to their community.

This modest beginning has now evolved into an initiative at my present school that includes as many as 16 different visits to two different facilities every year by many different ages and types of students.

Nothing is unique about students visiting nursing homes, of course, but I've been doing it with students for many years and in several different contexts. Here are some tips from an educator's perspective on how long-term care facilities can build relationships with schools that help both students and residents: 

  1. Cost. The of getting there is probably the single biggest obstacle preventing school groups from visiting. When I taught at a school near a nursing home, my students walked there six times a year free of charge.

    My current school is farther away so securing bus transportation funding is a constant challenge. Using a bus, however, makes visits possible in all kinds of weather and allows even young students to participate who otherwise wouldn't be able to walk.

    At my school we've cobbled together support from as many as seven different grant programs. One facility even funded the three visits our students needed to complete a Life Story Project with their residents. I'd advise senior living activities directors to first reach out to schools located within walking distance of their facilities. Otherwise, partner with a nearby school to apply for grant funding or even offer to have your facility financially support the visits.

  2. Reducing fear. Fear is probably the biggest reason teachers hesitate to visit. I had fond memories of visiting my senior friends and neighbors at the small nursing home in rural Nebraska where I grew up. It wasn't scary at all to me, but that's not the case with everyone.

    One teacher at my school told me she'd had a bad experience visiting a nursing home as a young student herself. Of course, she was hesitant to take her students!

    It's important to educate teachers and students about what to expect and what they'll be doing. At my school, students prepare for their visits with videos and photos from previous visits, by writing “save the date” letters to residents, and by listening to their teachers read stories that cover themes of aging.

    Students who've visited before are eager to go again and will compare notes on favorite residents. (“Oh, did you meet the retired school teacher?” “The lady who is always holding the doll is really nice!”)

    Recently, when preparing a third- and fourth-grade class for a visit to a nearby nursing home, we realized nearly all of the students had had previous experience visiting as younger students! An ongoing relationship completely evaporates the “fear factor.”

    If you're serious about encouraging interaction with the younger generation, offer to help orient students and teachers at a nearby school about what to expect when they come to your facility. Preparation is key.  

  3. Connection to education. Linkages to schoolwork are critical. Time constraints make it especially important that visits not be just “one more thing” — they can support many Common Core State Standards as well as build character.

    The activities that students from my school do at the two different facilities they visit are all directly connected to what they're learning in the classroom. They present puppet plays, write life stories, interview residents, and sing songs they've learned in music class, among other things.

    Consider a first grader invited to read with a nursing home resident. A first-grader isn't simply getting practice when he reads to his senior buddy; he's also “reading with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension” (Common Core State Standard RF.1.4). Our fourth-graders enjoyed presenting their biography bottle projects to their senior friends, but they were also meeting Common Core State Standard SL.4.4 (“Report on a topic . . .speak clearly at an understandable pace.”).

    Nursing home personnel certainly don't need to know the curriculum this well, but they can remind teachers that visiting their facilities can help students learn in an authentic, relevant way.  

“Yes, I'm still going to Cherrywood,” I tell former students who ask. What's even better, though, is that many other teachers and students at my school are going too. My wish is that students at other schools can be as happy and comfortable visiting long-term care facilities as the students at my school are.  I hope these tips can help make that possible.

Barbara Gottschalk is an English language acquisition teacher at Susick Elementary, Warren Consolidated Schools, in Troy, MI. Connect with her on Twitter at @barbgottschalk1 or email at gottscha@wcskids.net.













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