School visits enriching for students and seniors
The simplest action can leave a lasting impact and can bridge a very big generation gap. Take the outings for Mary Ann Mecher’s fourth grade religion class at Our Lady of Victory School. Once a month, she brings her students to visit the seniors who attend the Adult Day program at Bayley.
“It is part of what I believe is a way to help them live their faith, to follow Jesus’s teachings,” Mecher said.
The tradition started in 1989, when she was teaching first grade. That’s when Kathy Baker, who is now the marketing director at Bayley, asked Mecher if her students could visit and put on a skit for Mother’s Day. They did, and the kids returned each month, sometimes to sing, other times to play games with the Bayley clients. When Mecher moved up the fourth grade, she continued the visits. All of the principals at Our Lady of Victory have supported the program and the PTO raises money for the buses to take the kids one mile down the road to Bayley. The cost runs about $60 a month.
“In fourth grade, we study the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and we’re focusing a lot on the Beatitudes so it’s a good way for them to actually live what they are learning,” Mecher said.
The Adult Day program is designed for people who live at home. Seniors come for the day and return home in the evenings. It provides activities that are both physically and mentally stimulating. A nurse and social worker are on site every day and a hairdresser comes twice a day and clients get a hot meal. The calendar often includes outside visitors like the kids from Victory.
“I notice that anytime the kids are here, no one refuses to participate in the activity,” said Angela Woodard, the activity coordinator at Bayley. “They’re really fully engaged in the activities when the kids are here.”
“I think we all enjoy them. And they look like they enjoy coming,” said Vera McPherson, one of the seniors in the program.
“I had two little girls helping me and they had more energy,” recalled Marion Halloran. “If we could bottle that and spread it around,” she said with a laugh.
And while the seniors enjoy the visit, there is something in it for the kids, too.
“It’s such a great experience for them because some of them maybe do not have any contact with older adults,” observed Kathy Baker. “Here, they see people with walkers and wheelchairs and some ask questions.”
Ryan Carlton, 24, visited Bayley as a first grader. His mother now works there and he recently returned for a visit. He remembers how the seniors would light up when the kids visited.
“Back then, it didn’t sink in, but as I got older, I realize how much of an impact I was making on them and they on me,” Carlton said.
In 2013, Mecher received the Distinguished Teacher Award from the National Catholic Educational Association. It was given for her outstanding commitment to the religious, academic and social formation of her students. She believes her students’ visits to Bayley played a large role in her winning the award.
The first grade teacher at Victory has continued the tradition that Mecher started of monthly visits to Bayley. Those kids visit the nursing home. Mecher believes this is something other classes in other schools could and should do. She said there are a number of organizations that would welcome a little outside interaction. The lessons learned outside the classroom could stick with the kids for the rest of their lives.
“I think they are learning that religion isn’t just reading from a book,” Mecher said of her students. “I think it’s a lifestyle. I think it’s something to learn and hopefully carry on as they’re adults.”
Story by Patricia McGeever
This feature first appeared in the July 2016 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.