Written by Beryl Katz, the following article describes a nonprofit program the author was instrumental in helping develop that helps connect older adults with school-aged children. This article has been lightly edited for brevity and requirements for our site.
Twenty-one years ago, as a parent at a school board meeting, I saw two distinct groups of people: parents who wanted the best education for their children and older adults who did not want higher taxes.
As a mother, a former English teacher, and taxpayer, I sat there an idea began forming in my mind. Why not bring in older community members as volunteers making them a part of the solution rather than part of the problem? Little did I realize this idea would soon materialize into Senior Adults for Greater Education or S.A.G.E. This successful, non-profit, community-based intergenerational program places older volunteers in schools to interact with the students to share their wisdom and experience.
The National Council on Aging defines “intergenerational programs” as “activities or programs that increase cooperation, interaction or exchange between any two generations. They involve the sharing of skills, knowledge, or experience between old and young.”
Intergenerational programs are becoming a major initiative. These programs not only provide major benefits to youth and seniors but the community as well. Benefits include increasing self-esteem for youth and older adults, increasing learning knowledge and skills, understanding, and increasing community awareness about youth and aging issues.
Nothing like this existed, so I decided to start my own organization to bring older people into the schools as volunteers. With several district administrators and family friends, I simultaneously started the S.A.G.E. program in all 15 schools in the Council Rock School District, the ninth-largest school district in Pennsylvania.
Using a multi-pronged approach, I first looked for a way to hook seniors and bring them into the schools to make them feel comfortable. “We ran programs like “55-Alive” driving classes, water aerobics, and bone density screenings. We had the Bureau of Consumer Affairs talk to older community members about scams explicitly aimed at their age group. When our older community members visited the schools to attend these programs, they saw students milling around and thought they were in school again and felt comfortable.
I then created a database of older community members’ names and addresses and mailed newsletters to them about other events. Next, I involved teachers within the school district, asking them to volunteer to teach computer classes. Katz knew this would be another way to bring seniors into the schools.
Finally, we offered intergenerational activities during school hours, requiring little or no commitment. The first activity S.A.G.E. sponsored was a Thanksgiving feast. S.A.G.E. partnered with a food service company in the school district that provided all the food. The event was hosted at the junior high level with students performing the “Wizard of Oz.” After the show, our older community members were escorted into the dining room, and students served the meal in their costumes. “We had 100 people and received local media coverage.”
Since 1998, the Council Rock S.A.G.E. program has grown to over 100 volunteers going in for at least one hour on a weekly basis. We are also in other local districts, and we would love to expand S.A.G.E. into other school districts, locally and nationally, and teach them how to set the program up using a set of core activities that will enable them to create their own intergenerational programs reflecting their school district and community.
I am passionate about the S.A.G.E. program and credit its success to several volunteers, teachers, school officials, and a loving, supportive family, including my own parents and grandparents. “A lot of children don’t have the opportunity to spend time with their grandparents because their grandparents are deceased or their families live far away. Through the S.A.G.E. program, you get a completely unconditional acceptance that I remember so vividly while growing up. If you can find the similarity in someone, then there is a connection.
For more information on the S.A.G.E. program, how to become a S.A.G.E. volunteer, or how you can start a S.A.G.E. program in your school district, visit the S.A.G.E. website at www.beasage.org or contact Beryl Katz at 215-357-2332.