A teacher from the Owatonna Options Program (a student-directed learning community inside Owatonna High School) gave the second presentation I attended on Thursday morning. His focus was on intergenerational learning though the incorporation of senior members of a school’s local community.
When we do talk about schools connecting with their surrounding communities (which we don’t do often enough), we often talk about connecting schools with local businesses to arrange for mentorships, supervised work experiences, or technical trainings. Beyond this strictly econo-centric domain, the conversation dries up.
This can be a loss for our students and teachers, as local seniors can often prove to be an invaluable resource for academics and student sense of connection to a broader world. Too often, school becomes a clearly artificial, constructed experience. For students that don’t buy into the worth of that experience, this is a recipe for checking out of school (mentally if not physically). By tying school into the reality of the local community, students can feel a more immediate connection to what they’re learning.
Seniors can be one route to this connection. While Google might be able to point students to a list of events that occurred during the 1960’s, Mr. and Mrs. Larson from Beech Street can talk about what the civil rights movement looked like up here (Did you know that we used to have an active chapter of the KKK in town?), and Ms. Glenn – who was a Freedom Rider and marched with Dr. King – can talk about being in the movement.
Will this directly impact test scores? I don’t know. Will this give students a better grounding in their community? If it’s done correctly, yes. And that’s worth fighting for, too.
Michael Diedrich is covering the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs (MAAP) conference in Rochester and passing on some of the most interesting, exciting, and thought-provoking concepts.