Eastside Connections students visit Woodland Terrace for learning program

Published 9:46 am Tuesday, March 12, 2019

NILES — On days when kindergarteners at Eastside Connections visit Woodland Terrace, there is palpable excitement among seniors at the assisted living facility.

Nancy Herrman, a Woodland activity director, said she notices a difference in residents’ behavior. 

“As soon as I put it on the board, they are like, ‘the kids are here,’” Herrman said. “It just puts a smile on their face morning till night. It really lifts them up and makes them feel good for the day.”

For the past five years, a partnership with Woodland Terrace and Eastside has given students the chance to spend one day a week learning inside the facility and interacting with seniors.

Bonnie Prenkert, an Eastside kindergarten teacher, leads the program. Both staff from Woodland and the school felt the program could help to bridge a generational gap. 

“I think children learn at the feet of the elderly,” Prenkert said. “We are losing that. So many of our kids don’t have their grandparents. [They] don’t have that elderly person in their life. Here, they learn so much.”

On a typical Monday morning, students and seniors start the day with an exercise program. The students will then separate into their rotations, which includes lessons in reading, science and art. During art class, students will typically craft something to give to residents. Colorful artwork created by students could be seen adorning the hallways and doors inside the facility. In the afternoon, seniors and youth alike will sit down to enjoy lunch together.

For most students, this afternoon hour is the best time to spend with residents.

“I like how we sit together,” said 6-year-old Mataya Fox. “Yeah, we really like lunch.”

It’s during their meal when Herrman said the seniors and students get a chance to talk and share stories.

“For those that don’t have family and grandkids close, it gets them [connected] with kids,” Herrman said. “It’s called bridging the gap. They learn from the residents and the residents learn from them. It gives them [seniors] joy and it makes their day.”

Eastside students will spend classroom time at Woodland for one day a week for nine weeks. In April, they will cap the program with a presentation that will include discussing what they have learned and singing with residents.

In the years since she started the program, Prenkert said she has seen it form lasting connections between the children and the seniors.

“Children who have this experience have more empathy,” Prenkert said. “They want to come back. I’ve had parents tell me that after this experience, they want to come play bingo. They want to come back and see the resident they connected with.”