Huge smiles on the faces of seniors at Village Gate would have been enough to show the success of the program but that their expressions were mirrored in Union School students also participating in the Intergenerational Art and Music Program indicated something very special had happened: the young and the old had forged friendships through the arts.
Union School art teacher Suzie Magnee and music teacher Kate Smallidge created the Intergenerational Arts and Music Program as an eight-week afterschool offering of EXCL.
“We wanted to do something to bring the community into the school instead of just going out into the community and we wanted to help the students make connections with older people,” Magnee said. “We thought art and music were the perfect way to help make bonds and create friendships.”
Thirteen students participated and were all matched with buddies – seniors at Village Gate, an independent senior living community on Scott Swamp Road in Farmington. The students wrote letters to their buddies and engaged in a variety of arts and music-related activities with them.
The students also prepared for their interactions with the seniors by learning new songs and drumming skills that they could then teach to the seniors. By the culminating celebration, held at Village Gate Thursday afternoon, seniors enthusiastically joined in singing with the students, shaking maracas and dancing to the beat.
In the art room, students created whimsical clay pots, and with the seniors collaborated in creating clay tiles for a hanging quilt, which the students presented to the seniors to hang at Village Gate.
But truly precious to the seniors were the moments shared with the students.
“It’s the best thing they could have done for us,” said Jonni D’Andrea, a Village Gate resident who participated in the program. “They were wonderful with the rhythm; their teachers are amazing. I’m so disappointed this program is ending.”
“They’re so full of fun and so welcoming,” Bunny Frey said.
“— and hugs,” Bernice Murphy added.
“It made you feel like a grandmother again,” D’Andrea said.
“Life was brought to Village Gate,” said Jane Blanco.
The kids said they enjoyed getting to know the seniors, too.
“I think it was fun meeting new people and seeing how they were like,” said second-grader Irena Zervas. “I was surprised they had Wii and checkers. It was fun playing with them.”
Olivia Klinzmann said she was glad the seniors got to visit Union School and participate in the art projects with them.
“I liked that we got to meet different buddies from different situations and they got to know us,” she said.
Perhaps it was fourth-grader Michael Nyemadden’s charm that had the ladies calling, “Where’s my Michael?”
“It’s just a gift I have,” he explained. “It really was fun and it was exciting to get to meet new people, sing songs and do art.”
For a few of the children, the program brought their first exposure to seniors.
“It was difficult at first,” admitted Cecily Meehan, 9. “I’ve never met these sort of people. But it got sort of fun. I got to know both our buddies and it was nice to see how good they were at music and art.”
The seniors lingered at the door of Village Gate as the students filed back onto their bus to head home. Ms. Smallidge assured the seniors they could come visit during the students’ upcoming concerts.
“I enjoyed it very much,” Bill Dudzik said. “I look forward to seeing them again.”