Elderly people and teenagers are good for each other. It’s not just grandparents that are good for their grandchildren, older people and younger people are good for each other even if they aren’t family. There’s a physiology of elder and youth interaction. Elders who regularly interact with youth are happier and physically stay healthier longer.
Elders have valuable life experience that can help guide a youngster’s growth and life direction. And, youth have excitement and energy about growth that resonates in an older persons mind and with their memories. It used to be, when agriculture was the primary lifestyle for everybody, that there was a natural progression in the agricultural lifestyle. The agricultural skills were passed along from elders to youth. Today, that has fallen by the wayside far too often, but there is a wave of initiatives that re-establish the elder/youth connection.
Building To Connect Age Groups
Swampscot high school in Swampscot, Massachusetts is a building designed to re-establish the connections between elders and youth. The new high school was built in 2007 with an eye to combining a new senior center with a new high school building. According to architect, Phil Poinelli that combination was in the works from the beginning, but exactly how to combine the two institutions was left up in the air.
As Poinelli has said in several news articles, “It’s surprising. A high school is probably the greatest capital expense a community will make, so why shouldn’t it serve everyone from child care to senior citizens?”
By looking at all similar activities that happened in both their senior center and their high school the town officials and architect, Poinelli, found the cafeteria, the field house and running track, the art facilities, the auditorium and class rooms all could, potentially, serve both age groups. There would be scheduling requirements and they would have to work out a scheduling system, but there wasn’t any reason that each community, high schoolers and elders, should need their own facilities. In time they might even learn how to interact with each other.
As it turns out, that’s exactly what has happened. Some high school girls learn knitting from women in the senior center; the high school sports teams talk with the senior men, who offer their support; and several of the seniors got involved with the high school talent show and performed a short act.
Where Else Is This Happeing?
Beyond Swampscott there are no other high schools, at this point, that have taken a similar route. Phil Poinelli is a little disappointed about this, but never really stops to lament. In the mean time he is actively pursuing other educational architecture projects. In a recent book chapter he writes about the Community School at Nantucket High School. Adult education at high school building is the most common combination of adults using a high school building, but at Nantucket it goes beyond the usual adult night school.
At Nantucket high school there is adult education, GED preparation, Community pool in the high school pool, parent enrichment programs, community network for children, summer camps and after-school programs. The high school is used as a center for many parts of the community and offers some senior interaction with youth. In a community that contracts from 50,000 people in the summer to 10,500 in the winter, a sense of belonging to the island is enforced by community participation and the high school offers that.
For now there may not be more plans to combine new high school construction with senior center construction, but Swampscott high school and architect, Phil Poinelli, have placed a flag in the social network. Who knows when the next interaction between seniors and high school students will be taken? It’s likely to happen eventually somewhere. In the mean time, there is an active literature developing about how educational architecture benefits a community. And, as that literature points out, almost all high school construction projects involve a vote for a bond to finance construction. Combining two town needs, such as a senior center and a high school, into one new project has beneficial economic features that make poling for a bond much easier.