Nearly 20 years ago, Grace Living Centers launched a kindergarten and pre-K program inside the walls of its assisted living and skilled nursing home in Jenks, OK.
Starting this fall, the organization will roll out a similar model at Grace Skilled Nursing in Norman, OK. There, seniors will be invited regularly into two brand new classrooms and join students on a playground with paths wide enough to accommodate preschoolers on tricycles riding next to residents using wheelchairs or walkers.
“Grandmas and grandpas” will serve as reading buddies and engage in academic activities that might seem reminiscent of therapy. Residents will take part in music and movement sessions, sing-alongs, drama and even ice cream socials, according to a description of the new program in “The Norman Transcript.” And they’ll be tapped to provide lessons learned from their own lives and professions.
There are a total of 40 pre-kindergarten seats available for local students.
Intergenerational education partnerships have grown in popularity across the nation, with the dual goals of fighting isolation among seniors and building empathy among children. Norman Superintendent Nick Migliorino said students who have participated in intergenerational programs elsewhere have reported feeling more comfortable than their peers around people with disabilities.
U.S. network television and BBC coverage of Grace Living Centers’ early adoption led a group in the United Kingdom to create a pilot based on their approach.
“We’ve had people visit from all over the world to ask us questions about and see the program,” said Grace Living Centers spokeswoman Theresa Green. “And Jenks always has a waiting list from kids in that community who want to get in.”
Grace Skilled Nursing is recruiting a new employee to serve as a liaison during daily interactions, according to an online post by Administrator Josh Wood. Staff from Normal Public Schools will handle day-today instruction, which mostly mirrors curriculum in other district buildings.
This will be third intergenerational program for Grace Living Centers, which continues its legacy program with Tulsa Public Schools and launched a second at The Springs in Muskogee, OK.
Green said the program’s evolution has been a passion project for Don Greiner, president of Grace Living Centers.
“He just saw how seniors came to life when kids visited,” Green said. “He wanted to be able to have them here all the time.”