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Mt Barker Community College students forming intergenerational connections with seniors group

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Zack Laing, Margaret Williamson and Muhammad Qasimi.
Camera IconZack Laing, Margaret Williamson and Muhammad Qasimi. Credit: Kasey Gratton

A class of high school students from Mt Barker Community College have formed lasting connections with members of a local seniors group during weekly intergenerational visits.

Every Thursday for the past five weeks, a group of MBCC Year 10 students visited members of Empowering Plantagenet Seniors, a social meeting place for older members of the community.

The program was the brainchild of EPS president Sue Hetherington, who approached the school with an invitation.

Mt Barker Community College students with members of Empowering Plantagenet Seniors
Camera IconMt Barker Community College students with members of Empowering Plantagenet Seniors Credit: Kasey Gratton

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Year 10 teacher Saskia van der Westhuizen took her up on the offer, bringing a class along to EPS for what she said had become a very popular program with the students.

“We use this as an incentive — the students need to behave, they need to attend, they need to do their work, be respectful, hold our values in school, in order to be considered to come every week,” Ms van der Westhuizen said.

“They work their butts off at school to be able to come and spend time, because we use it as a reward or as an incentive.”

Mt Barker Community College teacher Saskia Van Der Westhuizen and Empowering Plantagenet Seniors president Sue Hetherington.
Camera IconMt Barker Community College teacher Saskia Van Der Westhuizen and Empowering Plantagenet Seniors president Sue Hetherington. Credit: Kasey Gratton

Ms Hetherington said that initially, some members of EPS were against the program.

“One guy here, he said ‘Oh, this is a seniors thing, it’s not for kids’,” she said.

“But boy, the other oldies get down on him when he says that.”

Mt Barker Community College students play cards with members of Empowering Plantagenet Seniors.
Camera IconMt Barker Community College students play cards with members of Empowering Plantagenet Seniors. Credit: Kasey Gratton

Over the weeks the program has involved the students interviewing the seniors to write profiles about them, games of bingo and jigsaw puzzles.

Ms van der Westhuizen said she designed the activities so students could form organic connections with the seniors and learn important interpersonal skills, as well as forming social connections.

“It’s the laughter and the fun and the games that makes my heart smile the most,” Ms van der Westhuizen said.

Zack Laing and Margaret Williamson.
Camera IconZack Laing and Margaret Williamson. Credit: Kasey Gratton

EPS member Shirley Coleman said spending time with the students had allowed her to create connections with the younger generation that she otherwise would not have.

She said it also benefited students who did not have grandparents.

One of the strongest connections formed throughout the weeks has been between Zack Laing and Margaret Williamson, who clicked during the first session over Zack sharing the same name as Ms Williamson’s grandson.

Zack Laing and Margaret Williamson.
Camera IconZack Laing and Margaret Williamson. Credit: Kasey Gratton

Zack said he was unsure about the program during the first visit, but those doubts dissipated when he met Ms Williamson.

“I just felt not nervous when I talked to Margaret,” Zack said.

The two have been inseparable at the sessions ever since, with Zack teaching Ms Williamson to play Uno and presenting her with a handmade card, which drew a few tears.

Zack's card for Margaret.
Camera IconZack's card for Margaret. Credit: Kasey Gratton

For now, the program has come to an end, but the pair have plans to meet up over the school holidays with their families.

The final week of the program ended in a tearful farewell, but both Ms van der Westhuizen and Ms Hetherington said it had been so successful that they wanted to continue next term.

“The oldies have got a hell of a lot out of it, they really have,” Ms Hetherington said.

Zack Laing and Margaret Williamson.
Camera IconZack Laing and Margaret Williamson. Credit: Kasey Gratton

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