The chosen generation

 

National Grandparents’ Day is coming to a school near you soon, writes SYLVIA THOMPSON

GRANDPARENTS WILL be welcomed into schools across Ireland next month as the fledging National Grandparents’ Day in School goes nationwide.

The intergenerational project was initiated separately in Dublin and Mayo over the past number of years and this year the leaders of these projects have come together to spread the word to schools throughout Ireland.

The Bealtaine Festival celebrating creativity in older age has also jumped on the bandwagon to publicise the event.

So, what’s it all about?

“The initial idea came from a granny in Co Mayo who thought it would be interesting for grandparents to go into their grandchildren’s schools to tell a story about when they were in school or to talk about what was happening in the world when they were young,” explains Art Ó Súilleabháin, director of the Mayo Education Centre in Castlebar, Co Mayo.

And, from that initial idea a project was born in which grandparents visited their grandchildren’s schools. But, the process soon became a two-way street.

“We decided to look at what the children could do for their grandparents and quickly realised that they could show them how to send an e-mail or how to access a website,” says Ó Súilleabháin.

And from this, a number of so-called “silver surfers” clubs have been set up in schools to give grandparents access to the web.

“Last year, we had 18 schools in Co Mayo involved in Grandparents’ Day in School. One principal said that the day brought more goodwill to the area than anything else that had ever been done in the school,” says Ó Súilleabháin.

Stiofán Ó Moráin, principal of Scoil Phádraic co-educational primary school in Westport, Co Mayo, says: “Last year, we asked fifth and sixth class children to interview their grandparents about what school was like for them. This led on to an exhibition of artefacts and, on the day itself, grandparents came into the school and sang songs and told stories and the children served them tea and biscuits that they had made themselves,” he explains.

Meanwhile, Castleknock Community College in Dublin also had the idea of welcoming children’s grandparents into their secondary school.

“Encouraging students to stay in touch with their grandparents has been part of our commitment to holistic education right from when we opened 10 years ago.

“Grandparents and their grandchildren have so much to learn from each other,” explains assistant principal, Mary Ryan.

Ciara Gorman is a second year student in Castleknock Community School. Last year, she invited her two grandmothers and her grandfather into the school for Grandparents’ Day in School.

“It was a fantastic day. It was lovely to show them my school so that they could see how much things had moved on since they were in school,” she explains.

Patsy Britton from Co Cork is one of Ciara Gorman’s grandmothers who visited the school last year. “It was absolutely excellent. I thought the teachers and students had a very open friendly relationship which is conducive to learning. It was very different in my day when you were rather scared of your teachers,” she explains.

The links between grandparents and their grandchildren have grown so much in Castleknock Community College that the school is building an archival collection of grandparents’ memories. And, one day every week, Transition Year students invite older people to come into the school to learn about using the internet.

On Friday, there will be an official launch of a new website www.grandparentsdayinschool.ie. An intergenerational group from Mayo will set up an internet link-up with students and grandparents in Castleknock Community College to launch the website.

The site will contain a package of ideas of how schools can integrate Grandparents’ Day in Schools into various subjects on the curriculum.

“The day fits extremely well into the curriculum and can be woven into subjects such as English, history and art. For instance, it has re-invigorated poetry from years ago and listening to grandparents recite poems by heart has changed teachers’ views about learning poems,” says Ó Súilleabháin. “We’ve also had intercultural learning because there are children from Poland, India, Nigeria and Latvia in schools and they bring different stories about their grandparents.”

Meanwhile, Bealtaine, the festival of creativity in older age which runs throughout the month of May, publicises Grandparents’ Day in Schools this year.

Bealtaine’s artistic director, Dominic Campbell, says, “We’re always interested in intergenerational projects in which young people can teach older people something for half a day and older people will teach younger people something for half a day and this project fits perfectly here.

“It’s all about relationships – the older person’s relationship with his or her younger self and younger people’s sense of who they’d like to be as they get older. Everybody can discover something about their own worth in projects like these.”

www.grandparentsdayinschool.ie, www.bealtaine.com, telephone: 1890 506060