Bringing young and old together on Réunion Island
The unique programme of a school built in the grounds of a residential care home on Réunion Island is impacting the lives of young and old alike. Principal of Ma Kindy, Jade Amalou reports.
At first sight, there is nothing particularly unusual about our school. True we offer an alternative education for children on Réunion, which as you may know is an Overseas Department of the French Republic. Unlike other schools here, we have established a fully immersive English language programme for our students. We offer both IB and the UK curriculum in our programme, making us an international bilingual school. But we know there are other bilingual international schools in the world who do this as well!
What makes us really different, however, is that we are an intergenerational school, having built our campus on the same site as a local residential care home for the elderly.
The development of our intergnerational philosophy
At the heart of our philosophy as a school are the values of Réunion Island itself, which are strongly influenced by the tradition of living together across the generations. We have taken this idea in a number of directions and it seemed to us that providing an opportunity for different generations to live and work together was important.
With this in mind, Ma Kindy opened the doors of its school in the grounds of a lovely senior care home residence on Reunion Island in 2017. By mixing the oldest with the youngest, the school has created unique opportunities to ensure our national values can be lived every day.
Everyone learns from each other: residents, children, carers, teachers and parents have created strong bonds between three generations and provided a uniquely healthy and caring learning environment for the children.
Sharing everyday life
Housing the school directly in the grounds of the nursing home has allowed us to facilitate various activities between the residents and the children: in harmony with our values and with a view to simplify the gatherings, the residential home has made available a room within its walls to carry out all the activities and as a result, the children are used to being in daily contact with a much older generation. This collaboration between the two institutions also gives older people the opportunity to participate in the school’s everyday life through workshops, gardening, theatre and reading time.
Every month a mini party is organized for the ‘birthdays of the month’ in which the students and the care home residents get together to celebrate. The school’s intergenerational and inclusive philosophy has clear benefits for the children, helping to develop self-control, consideration for others, listening skills and caring skills while developing open-mindedness in a different sort of way. Having the attention of an older generation as an audience also encourages children to give 100% in their activities!
In short we think our approach is helping to create a more open-minded younger generation, eager to reach out to others regardless of their differences.
Breaking the mould
As well as implementing an international program and welcoming French students into a full English immersion programme, this mixed generation structure has ended up being a real asset for everyone and there can also be no doubt of the benefits for ‘our’ care home residents. The school in effect is helping to break down the reputation of care homes being bleak places in which to spend one’s twilight years. The children see the relationship as being a normal part of school life. For example, at the beginning of the school year, our Reception year class were invited to create the school’s first newspaper of the year. As a result of their inquiry, they decided to present life at school and naturally they visited our residents to show this side of what was happening at school as part of sharing their environment with others.
The benefits for older people
Beyond the happiness that is taking place within the structure, our project has had a real impact on the health and well-being of the residents. We have observed a decrease in anxiety and depression among the elderly and the non-medicinal benefits provided by young children for residents with Alzheimer’s disease, for example, are very encouraging.
The children can break the routine of the older ones by teaching them how to recognize colours, cut, paste and more. For their part, the seniors can work on their memory by sharing their history, knowledge and culture with the little ones.
Vive la difference!
Moreover, besides developing literacy and numeracy skills, these sharing moments provide to the children a real sensitivity for their elders. Through the different activities that have taken place, these young citizens of tomorrow have been able to see the myriad of things that an elderly person can offer them (reflective practice, open-mindedness), but they are also able to see how much the elderly enjoyed working with them. Our intergenerational philosophy and activities teach them kindness and solidarity with others. As a result, they learn how to accept and respect differences, a fundamental idea aligned with the objectives of our curriculum and so much needed as we help develop the attitudes of our next generation.
The programme during lockdown
The Covid-19 crisis severely limited the scope of the project, as contact with the seniors was much more restricted and regulated. Since the situation was high-risk, activities directly involving the children and residents of the care home had to be restricted from the moment the lockdown was put in place to protect the most vulnerable.
With the aim of ensuring the sustainability of our project while respecting these restrictions, children used different mediums of communication to try to maintain the social link and reduce the isolation of the elderly. For example, the children held workshops for Christmas and Easter when they made cards and letters for the residents, showing a real enthusiasm for intergenerationality in a practical way. At such a difficult time, to know that younger people were thinking of them had a real impact on the older members of our community. Just to receive a card in the mail made a big difference.
A commitment to the future
Now that the covid regulations have been loosened, we want to continue to work on our mission to raise intergenerational awareness and change the way people usually see our senior citizens. We will continue to encourage children to see our residents as individuals and not just as ‘old people’. Through our collaborative initiative, we want to work towards recognizing and valuing the importance of the elderly in the family and social structure. We are working to counter isolation and making it a priority to respect and maintain the residents’ dignity, while allowing them to exchange and share their knowledge and past experience with the younger ones.
Today, our main goal is to extend our intergenerational project in order to develop an open-minded, inclusive and united society with the help of our pupils. With this in mind, Ma Kindy is opening two new schools on the island, also located in the grounds of two more care homes owned by the same group. In this way we hope to spread a little more of these healthy values, which we think are very important for the world of tomorrow.
Jade Amalou, founder and director of Ma Kindy international bilingual school
Feature Image by: Phillip Goldsberry from Unsplash
Support images kindly provided by Jade