Bates Middle School program bridges generational gap

Students discuss life issues with adult volunteers

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 3/11/18

What started out with a discipline referral of a student a few years ago has turned into a monthly program at Bates Middle School that bridges the gap between the older and younger generations and opens the lines of communication on important …

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Bates Middle School program bridges generational gap

Students discuss life issues with adult volunteers

Posted

What started out with a discipline referral of a student a few years ago has turned into a monthly program at Bates Middle School that bridges the gap between the older and younger generations and opens the lines of communication on important topics.

School Principal Ayesha Hunter discussed her school's intergenerational program on Wednesday during one of its monthly, two-hour program sessions at the school.

A few years ago, Hunter said, a Bates student had gotten into serious trouble, and the kid's grandmother, whom he lived with, had to be called in to the school to discuss the issue with Hunter and her grandson.

During the visit, the grandmother shared with Hunter and the young man that his problem reminded her of a pivotal moment in her own life when she was also headed in the wrong direction and had to make an important decision to change her life for the better.

Afterward, Hunter said the grandmother told her that kids today think they're the first to experience certain things, but they are not.

"So that got me to thinking: That's true, the younger generation feels they are the only people to go through difficult things," Hunter recalled. "So, I said to myself: 'How do we bridge the two together?'"

The result is Bates' Intergenerational Program, where 40 students (20 seventh-graders and 20 eighth-graders) meet once a month at the school with several local adult volunteers from all walks of life to talk about just that: Life and key issues that everyone faces.

On Wednesday, 12 adult volunteers were on hand at the school to rub shoulders with the 40 middle-schoolers to discuss the topics of communication, social media and cyberbullying.

The adult volunteers were a couple church pastors, a police officer and business leaders, among others.

Hunter said at each monthly program, the adults sit at a table with the same students in order to build on those relationships throughout the school year.

According to Hunter, students selected for the program are middle-level students at the school - not at the very top of their class academically but also not in the bottom quartile. Two of Bates' teachers - Sharell Grant and Jennifer Jackson - help Hunter facilitate the intergenerational program, which breaks down the barriers between adults and today's youth.

The program sessions are creative, Hunter said, and tie in educational standards, such as literature, poetry, T-Charts for looking at two sides of an issue, and inquiry-based activities.

When each topic is discussed during a session, Hunter, Grant or Jackson start with a clear definition and ask the youth and adults gathered for good examples as conversation starters.

On Wednesday, attendees were asked what's the difference between bullying and cyberbullying.

David Laws, an adult volunteer who also wears the hat as the school district's instructional technology director, said bullying has a limited audience, whereas cyberbullying can go viral on the internet.

On the topic of social media and Facebook, Hunter explained that words can hurt, but students can control if they participate in such activities.

"Sometimes, all you can do is shut off the computer," Hunter said. "Ignore it, shut it down. You don't have to respond to what people say about you."

Important take-aways from the session were controlling your emotions when online and also what's appropriate to post online and what's not.

"This program helps the younger generation; now they have someone to talk to," Hunter said.

Another adult volunteer, Chuck Wilson, has been involved in the school's intergenerational program from its initial planning stages three years ago.

He said he thinks it's a very good project because it combines adult community leaders with the students.

"We can offer the students advice and see how we are alike and how we are different," Wilson said.

Wilson said he's maintained relationships with former student participants who are now in high school.

"I am keeping up with the former participants that I worked with," Wilson said. "We are going to see them all to the end."

Seventh-grader Malik Hannah, who sits with Wilson in his group, said the program allows students to connect with people, and he especially likes Wilson.

"He's very uplifting, and he likes to get us into the swing of things," Hannah said. "We have our fun moments at times."

Eighth-grader Kaitlyn Brock said she enjoys the fact that she can see how the adults handle situations.

"We can all see from each other's point of view, so nobody is left behind," Brock said. "It gives the adults more of an understanding of how we feel. I see the adults have gone through a lot of what we have, but we also have more issues that they can't understand. There are a lot of similarities between us, but there's also a lot of differences."