Last week, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published an article called “Meeting the Multigenerational Moment” which raises a challenge that The Rashi School community creatively tackles every day: “As the US population becomes both older and more diverse, the country faces an essential, pragmatic challenge: How do we turn things around in time to not only reduce the problems of age-based disconnection and division, but also tap the immense possibilities of cross-generational connection and collaboration?”
At Rashi, our NewBridge neighbors are people who have distinctive needs as they age, and our students learn to understand these needs and connect with seniors in ways that enhance their quality of life. And it has always been about something deeper. Early in their Rashi careers, our students see the residents and all aging elders as assets to our community, people with knowledge, skills, capacity, and capability to enrich their learning and their ability to problem solve.
If you had been able to be in the Rashi building over the past couple of weeks (we miss you), this is what you would have experienced:
It’s 9:40 on a Monday morning, and the red and blue room Kindergartners are seated for snack. On the Smartboard in the front of their classrooms is a special guest reader named Ruth. She is an Independent Living resident at NewBridge. While her apartment overlooks the Rashi playground, this first visit is virtual. She reads a story, “Not Norman,” to the class with a strong voice, pausing to show pictures and ask questions about our Kindergartners’ lives. Ruth asks the students about their pets and immediately there is a line of students waiting their turn to approach the computer camera to tell Ruth about their fish, their dogs, their snails, and their tadpoles. Ruth shares with the group that she never had a grandparent and so now she tries to be the best bubbe she can be.
Our students say goodbye until next Monday when Ruth will visit again. For our Kindergartners, this is their first direct interaction with a NewBridge resident, launching a Rashi experience of nine years of friendship with our NewBridge neighbors.
Collaborating for a Cause
It’s lunchtime in our Middle School and a small group of student leaders are gathered in Joni Fishman, Dean of Students’ office, ready to present. On the other side of the screen is Ruth (a different Ruth than our Kindergarten reader), a Traditional Assisted Living resident logging in from her iPad. The student leaders have brought Anti Defamation League’s No Place for Hate initiative to our community to work towards ending bias, hatred, and injustice. Our students believe that any community initiative must include NewBridge and have created a presentation and proposal to engage NewBridge residents in this work. Ruth speaks to the students openly about her European ancestry, her struggle with anti semitism, and speaks passionately about wanting to work with the students to bring No Place For Hate to NewBridge.
Mitzvah Makers: Learning Through Friendship
It’s 4:00 PM on the first Tuesday of the month and 15 Rashi Grade 2, 3, 4, and 5 students are logging into their monthly Mitzvah Makers planning call. Each month, the Mitzvah Makers are charged with recording a video around a specific theme, which will then be shared with seniors at HRC-NewBridge. NewBridge staff capture the patients’ reactions and send them back to our students. This month’s assignment is to share a personal passion with the seniors. Students’ ideas are flowing as they brainstorm the topic for their videos.
The following week, the patients are flooded with videos from our students of cooking, drawing, singing, piano playing, sewing, Lego-building, skiing, and even a dominos demonstration! Our NewBridge colleagues report back that the videos are not only impressive, but they sparked joyful reminiscence and brightened the patients’ days.
Kabbalat Shabbat Together
It’s 2:35 on a Friday afternoon. Our Lower School students are logged into Kabbalat Shabbat from their classrooms. It’s the Grade Four’s turn to be service leaders and they are spread out in the auditorium where Rabbi Clevenger and Rabbi Micah are facilitating our Kabbalat Shabbat tradition. Some students are displaying their drawings, others are performing interpretive dance, a group is drumming along with the music of the ritual. Two students come up to the stage to lead the blessing over the candles. They sit down and two more students make their way to the stage for the blessing over the challah.
Over at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center-NewBridge, the long-term chronic care community next door, a group of patients are seated socially distanced facing a large screen. Our students’ energy is contagious. Each Friday at 2:35, the patients gather in the same place to enjoy Kabbalat Shabbat with our Lower School community, recognizing some of the students from when they visited in Pre-Covid times for Mitzvah Makers, a multigenerational program after-school for Rashi students to deepen their relationships with NewBridge residents.
Making Memories, Building Confidence
It’s the elective block in the Middle School and the entire Grade 6 is online with Marianna Mapes, Program Manager for Volunteer, Youth, and Community Engagement at Hebrew SeniorLife. This is the first training session for the Making Memories program, where our students will spend time with seniors at NewBridge who have Alzheimer’s disease. This year, their interaction will be virtual, a live talent show for the residents. Their participation will continue next Spring in person, visiting with seniors in four different memory care areas across the NewBridge campus. Marianna creates a virtual space for students to feel comfortable asking any questions about Alzheimer’s and the seniors they will be spending time with. She normalizes whatever our students might be feeling:
This is a complicated, amazing, interesting, weird, difficult topic and there are things you are going to wonder about and I want to honor that…You are going to come out of this with an amazing skill set that you are going to use your entire life. Your ability to be empathetic and comfortable–knowing how to sometimes be uncomfortable–and patient and caring with people with dementia puts you ahead of the pack. There are many adults who struggle to understand this disease so you are developing something really important.
She reminds them that they have been preparing for this experience for as long as they have been coming to NewBridge to interact with seniors–for their entire Rashi careers. They have spent time with residents and patients across the full spectrum of aging. They have studied the science of what happens in the brain of a person with dementia and the many ways a person with Alzheimer’s may behave and relate to others. They are ready.
Through our partnership with NewBridge, our students come to see their neighbors as people who simultaneously have immense capabilities and vast needs. They learn that they, as a five year old, a seven year old, or a twelve year old, can offer meaningful support. At the same time, they view the seniors as genuine contributors to the community we are creating together.