You should ask yourself some basic questions before implementing your program.
The answers you develop will help you selecting students and planning for
their participation. While this information is primarily directed at the
educator, it might be useful to go over these concepts with your community
The following questions may help you in visualizing and planning your
Grandfriends Project. After each essential planning question, you will find
lists of particulars which you can factor into your thinking.
WHAT LEVEL OF STUDENT ARE YOU WORKING WITH?
The age and ability level of your students can determine how much you can do
at first. I have work exclusively with high school students, though I know
that many intergenerational programs have been run with elementary or middle
school age students. Older students can be expected to do more on their own in
terms of assignments and carrying on conversations.
Students with special needs will benefit from a slow start up with
the first few meetings structured with Bingo games or interviews.
grade-level abilities can move much more quickly into a personal relationship
where they are able to sustain conversations for longer periods of time. The
level of the student will affect both staffing needs and how long you visit.
While it would be logical to assume that students with limited communication
skills will do poorly this has not always been my experience. Essentially, any
student who enjoys visiting or talking does well regardless of IQ or other
backgrounds and labels. If you have students who exhibit risky or
inappropriate behaviors, you will probably have to take fewer students or
include more adult supervision. Students who are shy (regardless of other
abilities) or those with limited social and verbal abilities will sometimes
need to be paired up with more verbal students.
In special education classes you can pull students from self-contained
classes. However, if students are mainstreamed for most of the day then they
will have to be pulled from regular education class. You'll need to get
permission and support from their teachers well in advance. Once everything is
agreed to, it is best to send around a memo reiterating why you are going,
when, and contact names. A sample memo is included in Appendix B-Sample Start-Up Schedule & Memo.
SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT SPECIAL STUDENTS
In 1997 I was asked by the teacher of our "DD" program to take along two of
her students. The "DD" programs serves Developmentally Delayed students;
students with serious disabilities. Both of the students were unable to read
and write and one student had a serious speech impediment which made him
difficult to understand at times. I agreed to take the students, but with a
As it turned out these were my most reliable and enthusiastic
students. I never asked them to complete worksheets. Instead, I asked the teacher to do an
"oral" journal each week related to our chapter or subject. She would ask
questions and type up their responses in our e-mail system. I used my
observations of the students at the nursing home and their journals as a basis
for giving them a grade. Below are two sample entrees from two journals. After
reading these I'm sure you'll want to consider the possibilities in the
Describe your Grandfriend to me
She wears glasses and has an oxygen tank. She is tall. She is nice and has a
granddaughter. Her own children are in heaven. She likes baseball. One day she
was crying when I went in to visit her and then she stopped.
Do you think you'd like a job at this nursing home in the future?
I don't know. I may change my mind when I get older. I don't think I would
like to help them with baths. I don't want them
to know that though, so they won't think anything bad about me.
If you are working with regular education students then I would use a 1 to 15
ratio of adults to students. Parents, school volunteers, administrators, and
support staff might be interested in participating. If you are using a school
bus then you only need one driver. Otherwise, the extra driver can also become
an extra chaperone. Chaperones can help with keeping track of students,
rounding people up for leaving, and supervising proper hygiene (washing hands)
If you are limited to only special education students then I suggest a ratio
of 1 adult to 8 students to start with. Coincidentally, this is about how
many you can take in a van. If you are including students with serious
emotional or behavioral problems then a 1 to 4 ratio is best. In this case,
you may want to make sure you have an extra adult and driver to return a
problem student to school. However you choose
to handle these rare situations, make sure everyone understands the
consequences up front.
TRANSPORTATION AND TIME OPTIONS
Transportation often determines everything else. When it is available, that's
when you go. If you have the option of going whenever you choose, then it is
best to consult with your care facility staff to learn what time works best
with residents. I have not had the luxury of choosing a time that is
convenient for others, since my class schedule dictates when I could leave
campus. As a result, we went during the last two periods of the day in a
Other options might include using a school bus and/or going after school. Your
PTA (or parent support) organization might be able to supply money or
volunteer drivers. Some nursing homes will want your visits enough to furnish
their vans. Also, consider contacting local volunteer agencies especially
Retired Senior Volunteer Persons (RSVP) volunteers.
HOW OFTEN WILL YOU VISIT? HOW LONG IS THE VISIT?
Visiting every other week has worked best in the past and kept enough distance
between students and residents so that they both had lots to talk about.
However, in another type of project, students were engaged only as assistants
in the recreational programs (bingo, wheelchair exercises). This program
reported successfully taking students twice per week. Going less than once a
month may not allow students the opportunity to build strong bonds.
We also found that 30 minutes was an optimum length for visiting in terms of
maintaining student interest and nursing home residents' stamina. You may be
able to go longer, but it is best if you keep the visits short in the
beginning. When working with low-verbal or special needs students, 30 minutes
is the maximum amount of time.
When working with residents who are more able, you can view them as
volunteers, similar to the students. In this instance, the residents may
sometimes be cast in the role of mentor. In essence, this symbiotic approach
results in an intergenerational partnership.
One of the key factors affecting availability of older grandfriends is how
often and what time you go. Be sure to go in first and explore options before
you begin choosing which students and classes you will select.
WHAT TYPE OF FACILITY WILL YOU WORK WITH?
Sometimes you won't have a menu to select from and you work with whomever is
available. Typical places to consider are listed next:
- nursing home
- convalescent center
- retirement community
- community based program such as a senior center
- home based program where volunteers go out to visit in group homes
- veterans hospital
- adult day care facility.
HOW DO YOU HOPE TO INTERACT WITH STAFF?
You must discuss your various roles up front. Do you want the staff to play an
active or background role? In the active mode they would greet you each time
and work with you and the students. If you feel you need extra adult
supervision, you might request this level of interaction for the first five
In a background position the staff merely sets up the room, connects you to
residents, and is rarely seen once you plan the project with them. I generally
don't favor this type of role until after you have successfully run a program
for one year. I prefer that the staff play an active role for at least the
first three visits which includes the initial tour, on-site training, and
first visit with residents.
You can build a healthy relationship by first visiting on their grounds. Ask
to meet all the key players including administrators, dietitians,
rehabilitation therapists, nursing staff, the recreation or activity
coordinator, and the volunteer coordinator. While you might begin with the
volunteer coordinator, you typically find that you end up seeing the
activities or nursing staff most often.
It helps if you have students introduced to people during the tour. Try to get
people to learn names whenever possible. Learn the background of the staff by
asking how they got started and if they think young people should consider
their line of work. In fact, you can invite out key players for a panel
discussion in your classroom.
HOW WILL YOU PAIR RESIDENTS TO STUDENTS?
I have found three levels or categories of elders to work with. Each has its
advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes, you may be able to pick from all
three levels. The terms I am using next are strictly local but you can use the
rubric to determine the correct labels and types of people you want to work
Independent or Partial Care
Often living in their own apartment or dorm-like rooms which may be shared
with roommate. They may even live in a house "on grounds." Very active,
ambulatory, involved in lots of activities. Often living in a retirement
facility which also provides more intense care for later life. They require
only minimal support.
Often these people are very engaging, interesting and busy. They have stories
to tell, enjoy doing things off the grounds. They work well with special needs
kids who need someone with a supportive attitude.
These people can be more like mentors to kids rather than recipients of
volunteer service. May be very busy and hard to get a long term time-
commitment. Sometimes you can pair two of them up to alternate with students.
Often living in their own apartment or dorm-like rooms which may be shared
with roommate. Many have limited mobility and stay on the grounds. They may
receive help with medicines, feeding, clerical chores, leisure activities, and
partake in some form of mental or physical therapy.
Since they don't get out often they very much enjoy the visits. Some people
may have difficulty hearing and this makes it harder for students with
communication difficulties. Some may experience a decline in health and begin
to become less reliable grandfriends. This is one of my favorite groups because
they are still able to contribute to your students while receiving services
from your students.
Convalescent or Alzheimer's or Nursing Home Care
Often living with supervision perhaps in single or shared rooms. May need more
intense monitoring of medical conditions, rarely leave facilities, and can
have limited grasp of their surroundings or the people they meet.
Some may have so many personal problems that they are not reliable in either
attitude or attendance. These folks needs special understanding and patience.
Sometimes I have been lucky that the staff is able to recruit or select
residents who make good grandfriends. My best recruits come from the Assisted
Living types of elders. They are still involved in a great many passions and
pursuits, yet are often lonely. Generally, I ask the staff to select residents
to meet my kids first.
However, when your grandfriends are quite active, or belong to the Independent
and Partial Care level of resident, then it is best to meet with them to
clearly delineate the commitment you want. In this instance, I broaden their
role to mentor. I've decided the program works best when I get actively
involved in recruiting this type of resident-with the help of their staff. We
invite them to a meeting and give an orientation.
During this time we cover our program goals, the benefits (as we see it) of an
intergenerational program. It is important to let the older residents know
your goals about learning about aging and providing a grandfriend for young
people who may not have significant older people in their life. After, you've
run the program for awhile, you might want to ask past adult Grandfriends if
they would like to assist in this orientation.
When asked if they will share their time and enthusiasm with young people,
generally most adults will respond favorably. To seal the deal and create a
sense of commitment I sometimes use the mentor application form shown in
Appendix F-Mentor Profile. This is a structured interview which helps me to
get to know the senior grandfriends. This information makes it possible to make
better matches with students. The form is designed so that anyone can conduct
the interview. You may need help to get everyone interviewed in one session.
Again, please clarify the time commitment and make sure residents can come or
can work around occasional glitches.
In most instances I don't make the final pairing of students until we've had
at least one or two larger group interactions. This can take the form of a get-to-know-you meeting. People might play bingo, take a tour of the grounds with
residents, or share about themselves. Then, I meet with the staff and try to
pair people up for future visits which typically are one-on-one. You might
find it helpful to summarize who goes with who on the Appendix G-Visitation
FORMS AND RECORDS
We live in a world of forms and documentation. I have typically had to get
permission forms to go off campus and to have photographs taken. I include
these forms along with a letter of introduction to the parents. Samples from
these can be found in the following appendices.
- Appendix C-Sample Invitation Letter
- Appendix D-Sample Elements in A Permission Form
- Appendix E-Sample Photo Permission.
- In addition, in the state of Washington we sometimes had to have a criminal
records check for volunteers. This includes students who work as unsupervised
volunteers. Some facilities interpret visiting in a person's apartment as
To help manage my record keeping I have a two to three inch binder devoted to
the Grandfriends Project. In this binder I file emergency numbers, permission forms, a list of
students going (with a copy given to the front office), grade charts,
a copy of the student workbook, this guide, and van keys.
All Rights Reserved.
Amby Duncan-Carr,page designer|
|Material from both THE GRANDFRIENDS
PROJECT, A Program Creating Friendships Across The Generations and the companion piece, PROJECT LEADER'S GUIDE FOR THE GRANDFRIENDS
PROJECT, A Program Creating Friendships Across The Generations is reproduced here with the permission of the publisher, Fairview Press. Printing or downloading a single copy of this document for
personal use is permitted; teachers may reproduce this document
for use in a single classroom, only. Transmission in any form or further
duplication is prohibited without the express written consent of
the author. In addition, any use of the document code, itself,
requires the written permission of the web page designer.|
© 1999 Amby Duncan-Carr   All Rights Reserved.
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