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From intergenerational programmes in schools to intergenerational schools

Most of the contemporary literature in the intergenerational field falls into two broads categories: there are studies that have explored the nature of Intergenerational Programmes (IPs) and studies that have explored the quality of intergenerational relationships in more familiar or ordinary settings (e.g. the family).

A great deal of effort has been put into developing and evaluating intergenerational programmes over the last five decades. Scholars and practitioners worldwide have promoted and planned IPs in ways that reflect increasingly validated conceptual frameworks, more formalised planning models and better evaluation resources. The use of improved assessment methodologies that include qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches has become widespread, and this has facilitated the understanding of the benefits of IPs for their participants and for the communities where IPs were developed.

For the society of the 21st century, learning to live together is a challenge of great complexity, especially when we are likely to be living for longer and can expect to interact more intensively with people of different generations and cultures over the course of our longer lives. Intergenerational education and programming play a very important role in helping us to foster intergenerational relationships in new social spaces outside the family, which is after all where we are most familiar with them. The development of IPs in schools provides a fascinating example of this process. Schools are probably the most common and widely dispersed kind public multigenerational space that we find in our societies. “In the last three decades, the number of intergenerational education programs in schools has grown steadily" (Feldman, Mahoney & Seedsman 2003: 51). The idea behind is clear: to activate participation, decrease social isolation and present a pathway to a sustainable society.

In their various attempts to determine what makes for a sustainable and successful IP, researchers have devised conceptual frameworks that include concepts such as the establishment of a more sustainable and inclusive society. From my point of view, part of the answer to this problem is already out there. Instead of creating and re-creating “artificial” environments where different generations interact, sustainable IPs might be best fostered in “natural” environments where generations already interact or may interact more thoughtfully.

This intergenerational synergy generates communal environments that welcome people of different ages and offer them meaningful opportunities for intergenerational exchange. There is a wide range of good practices that can be found across the world. I want to highlight just one,  Intergenerational Reading Rooms. It is an initiative of the Intergenerational Schools in Cleveland, Ohio, which has consistently been recognized as one of the leading public charter schools in the country.  It provides eight different grades for teaching and is a free public school. Catherine and Peter Whitehouse founded the Intergenerational Schools in 2000 with the aim of bringing together a multigenerational community of lifelong learners and citizens. In the classroom students are not organized by group age, so students of different ages can be in the same classroom learning together. This can happen of course in normal schools, but in this case people from different generations are also interacting in the classroom, teaching and learning together at the same time.  This particular IP, whether or not that is what we choose to call it, is implemented “naturally” by making use of a community environment that facilitates an easy interaction between generations. It is not an example of an IP that has been planted in a pre-existing school, but an example of a school that has been designed to incorporate intergenerational learning. It might be a pathway for a more sustainable intergenerational programming.

About the Author:

Cláudia Azevedo is a Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing and the Research Officer for LARNA (Latin American Research Network on Ageing. Claudia is PhD student from Porto University, Portugal.

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