Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

I Can Help

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

I Can Help

Article excerpt

Mr. Cuevas describes an intergenerational program in his school district that helps the elderly with life safety procedures and gives teens opportunities to really get to know senior citizens.

LATIN music blares from a disc jockey's two giant speakers, bodies twist on the dance floor, and domino tiles slam on the tables. All the while, conversation and laughter float around the room from every direction. While this might sound like a scene from a nightclub, it is typical of the atmosphere in any number of adult education centers in South Florida where senior citizens and teenagers participate in a variety of activities and events that are part of the intergenerational program of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

One of the most innovative in the nation, the intergenerational program has strengthened the community and helped build bridges across age groups. As senior volunteer Al Afterman puts it, "To waste the knowledge and experience of the older generation by separating the young from the old does inestimable harm to both."

Teachers involved in the several district-sponsored intergenerational programs have witnessed both subtle and dramatic changes in students who become involved with elders. "I've watched teens increase their understanding of history by seeing it through the eyes of the elderly," says Chris Kirchner, an English teacher at William Turner Technical Arts High School. "Young people also learn to value their education because older people treasure learning."

On one particular day, about 25 students from Coral Park Senior High, social studies teacher Dwain Ingram, and David Munoz, a public education officer with the Miami-Dade Fire Department, were spending several hours at an adult education center teaching more than 70 senior citizens about fire safety and prevention. The students and Munoz were members of I CAN HELP, one of the district's intergenerational programs; the acronym stands for Intergenerational Corps And Neighbors Helping Elderly With Life Safety Procedures. I CAN HELP was designed by the school district some five years ago.

"I teach the students the fire extinguisher safety portion and then they go out to senior centers and teach the senior citizens," said Munoz.

According to Ingram, the number of Coral Park students who signed up as volunteers for intergenerational programs has been overwhelming. …

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