Saturday, October 2, 2021

School-Nursing Home Partnerships (Service-Learning, Dementia)

I have had many occasions as an educator to implement and consult on intergenerational partnerships between schools and nursing homes. This was done through service-learning, a teaching and learning approach that connects learning with meeting community needs. Included in curriculum learning objectives, service-learning is used by many schools and community organizations. For example, after students learn how to write letters at school, service-learning could include writing letters to nursing home residents who would benefit from receiving them. Students can also do school performances at nursing homes.

A growing body of service-learning research shows that students benefit academically and affectively from 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 is okay. Dementia is understood with relevance and meaning. Students are open to the experience of being with the elderly and the challenged. They take pride in the roles they play as visiting caregivers who enrich lives. They empathize with the realities of residents living with dementia.

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

A Student's Service-Learning Reflections

I know you erase your
roommate sometimes, 
take distant trips in your mind, 
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 your words 
make me feel better,
feed my heart with praise,
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,  eldercare consultant, and retired Detroit Public Schools principal, has been instrumental in implementing service-learning in school districts across America.

You can read about 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. Visit 
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog and Frances Shani Parker's Website.