Seniors4kids Creates Gray-to-Pre-K Model to Improve Education

By Butts, Donna | Aging Today, July/August 2008 | Go to article overview

Seniors4kids Creates Gray-to-Pre-K Model to Improve Education


Butts, Donna, Aging Today


It's important for older people to stay in touch with kids; it keeps me connected to what's going on in our society... being with [them] helped me drop the cynicism that often comes with aging and look at the world from a kid's perspective.

Linda Darin, Florida

Seniors4Kids Lead Captain

People of all ages need purpose, a reason to get out of bed and greet the world in the morning. For many older adults, connecting with or working to assist a younger generation is the most rewarding purpose they can find. For more than 20 years, Generations United (GU) has worked to promote programs and public policies that build bridges among people of all ages. As one of our founders, the venerable late gerontologist Jack Ossofsky said, "We formed Generations United to argue for a caring society." GU's newest intergenerational civic engagement initiative, Seniors4Kids (www.seniors4kids.org), continues that legacy.

PRE-K FOR ALL

Seniors4Kids engages and mobilizes older adults as advocates for quality pre-kindergarten for all children. Funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the project started in 2005 in Florida. Working in partnership with a state-based child advocacy organization, GU recruited Captains4Kids, which in turn recruited other older adults developing a statewide network called Seniors4Kids. These volunteers wrote dozens of letters to the editor, made more than 1,000 direct contacts with policymakers and attended public awareness events. Their message: Quality early education benefits all generations.

A highlight of the Seniors4Kids Florida effort was its successful recruitment of all but one of the state's living former governors, plus the widow of one governor, as the project's honorary cochairs. These respected elders signed on to opinion editorials in support of quality pre-K, one of which was picked up by every major newspaper in the state. Not only was this the first time former Florida governors joined to call for a policy change, but also the current governor later said that he, too, would have signed on had he been asked.

Seniors4Kids also created Picture the Future, a statewide event that invited preK children to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up. Children submitted hundreds of pictures that circulated the state in a traveling exhibit designed to encourage Florida to invest in helping kids' dreams become reality. Older adults visited pre-K classrooms and told children about their occupations and shared stories and tools of their trades. Captains4Kids also accompanied the exhibit and discussed the importance of early education.

IDEAL CHILD ADVOCATES

Tom Taylor, an octogenarian special adviser at GU for Seniors4Kids, emphasized that adults'ages 5O-plus are necessary to any equation for ensuring that children 3 to 4 years old have access to high-quality pre-K education. Many older adults not only share the experience of being parents and, often, grandparents but also care deeply about the quality of education-and they vote, usually in greater percentages than any other age group.

In town meetings and speeches to seniors, politicians routinely expect to address domestic issues related to aging, such as Medicare, pensions and property taxes. In such settings, they rarely face questions about children's issues, such as high-quality pre-K education.

Older adults-possess several qualities that make them ideal advocates for children: a strong desire to give back to U.S. society, an increase in available free time, extensive social networks, and considerable skills and experience-yet they remain an untapped resource in most communities.

Many older adults understand and embrace the value of quality early learning for children. They also recognize the complexity of choosing between competing priorities when balancing budgets. In 2005, for example, residents in the retirement communities of Leisure World and-Sun Lakes in Mesa, Ariz. …

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