Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Service-Learning Reflection Poem (School-Nursing Home Partnership, Dementia)

2012 ALTY Blog Award Runner Up 
Best Senior Home and Senior Care Facility Blog Post Runner-Up

Service-Learning Reflection Poem (School-Nursing Home Partnership, Dementia)

Nursing homes are ideal places for students to visit and share what they are learning in school. A national service-learning consultant and former schoolwide service-learning principal, I have had many occasions to witness these intergenerational partnerships. Service-learning is a teaching and learning approach that connects learning with meeting community needs. Included in curriculum learning objectives, service-learning is used by many school and community organizations. For example, after students learn how to write letters, service-learning could include writing letters to older adults who would benefit from receiving their letters. Of course, service recipients might show their appreciation by writing students letters in response. The exchange is always win-win, even when the rewards are intangible. And they usually are.

A growing body of service-learning research shows that students benefit academically and affectively as a result of service-learning. Because teachers prepare students well before their nursing home visits, students know what to expect. If a resident falls asleep or cries, students understand why that’s okay. The word dementia can be added to their vocabulary with relevance and meaning. They are open to the experience of being with the elderly and the challenged. They take pride in the roles they play in enriching lives.

After students return to school, they reflect on how the nursing home visit affected them, what they learned, and ways to share that information with others. While students' reflections can take many forms (written, oral, dance, music, art, etc.), the poem below is an example of poetic reflections from my book Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes, which includes a chapter on intergenerational partnerships between schools and nursing homes.

                        Student Reflections

I know you forget
you have a roommate,
imagine you take distant trips,
see me as a short brown blur
when I visit your nursing home.

I know your childhood
friends whisper secrets,
your favorite dress has ruffles,
my cards touch you with sunshine,
you love the stories I tell.

I know that carrots
make you frown,
my visits swing you higher,
loneliness glues you down,
you miss your friends who died.

I know you teach me
about new things,
praise me when I’m good,
help me care about others
the way you care about me.

                        © Frances Shani Parker

Note: Winner of the National Service-Learning Partnership Trailblazer Award, Frances Shani Parker, a hospice volunteer, writer, and eldercare consultant has been instrumental in implementing service-learning in school districts across the country.

You can read about our fourth graders' nursing home research on ageism stereotypes here.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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