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Intergenerational Reading Programs in Hershey, PA

Posted: August 17, 2012

When Grace Wagler, a 16-year old student home schooled in Hershey, PA, attended a lecture for community members at Penn State College of Medicine that described programs at The Intergenerational School in Cleveland, OH – the first known charter school to invite persons with dementia to serve as mentors for schoolchildren – she was inspired to create two innovative intergenerational reading programs in her home town.
A resident reads with two students from Hershey, PA (Summer 2011)

A resident reads with two students from Hershey, PA (Summer 2011)

By Daniel R. George, Penn State College of Medicine

Working with the Hershey Public Library, Country Meadows Retirement Community, and the Department of Humanities at Penn State College of Medicine, she developed two programs over the last two summers that have increased reading and emergent literacy skills in children while fostering social interaction, cognitive stimulation, and quality of life for residents in the assisted living community, some of whom are living with dementia. In 2011, she worked with Hershey Public Library children’s librarian Rita Smith and the staff of Country Meadows Retirement Community to establish an Intergenerational Reading Club. On Monday through Thursday nights during the summer, elementary age children would meet at the retirement community to read library donated books alongside the residents on a one-on-one basis. This not only provided the children with reading fluency practice during the summer months, it also provided purposeful opportunities for seniors to contribute to the education of a younger generation. The Intergenerational Reading Club began its second summer this June.

In addition to this successful reading program, Grace is creating a second program for residents on the locked dementia unit called “Intergenerational Storytime.” This program pairs preschoolers with seniors living with dementia. Children and elders will meet in an activity space to hear a story together and then work in pairs to draw pictures inspired by the story. Artwork will be displayed in several public exhibitions, including at Penn State College of Medicine.

It is intuitive that programs such as the ones Grace has created are beneficial for all participants young and old, and an emerging evidence base is putting scientific data behind our common sense. Grace’s efforts have helped show how a big idea, a little bit of networking and leadership, and some shared community resources can create powerful relationships and learning opportunities in local communities. To learn more about these efforts, please contact Grace Wegler at hersheyscholars@hotmail.com.

A resident reads with student

A resident at County Meadows reads with a local student (June 2011)