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The City Journals

St. Vincent’s Students Build Relationships with Senior Citizens

Nov 05, 2015 03:09PM ● By Bryan Scott

By Stephanie Lauritzen

As  vice principal at the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School, Sarah Lambert recognizes the importance of developing students “educationally, spiritually, and emotionally.” In her mind, these goals are best accomplished by teaching students how to develop strong interpersonal relationships with others through long-term service opportunities.  Her philosophy is consistent with St. Vincent’s schoolwide learning expectations, which lists “serve others” as the first expectation for all students. 

“When you are doing service consistently within one community, you are building strong relationships, not just checking a box,” Lambert said. 

In order to facilitate long-term community engagement, middle school students at St. Vincent’s work with the senior citizens at Sunrise Senior Living Center in Holladay. Students in the 6th grade are matched with a senior citizen and follow that senior every year until their 8th-grade graduation from the school.  Lambert believes “this pairing allows students to build a lasting relationship over the course of several years, creating something more meaningful than the occasional visit to a stranger.” 

On Sept. 29, the 7th-grade class partnered with Sunrise Senior Living in a “Go4Life” program sponsored by the National Institute of Health. The program encourages senior citizens to remain active and healthy by setting fitness goals and celebrating successful exercise. An integral part of the program involves establishing exercise habits with a partner or “buddy,” since it holds people accountable to their exercise commitments. 

Sunrise Senior Living Executive Director George Wright decided to expand on the “buddy” concept by making the Go4Life program an “intergenerational event,” where both students and seniors from ages 12-98 could exercise together and learn more about each other. Each 7th grader walked the St Vincent de Paul’s track with a senior partner buddy, and spent the walk sharing stories and discussing mutual interests.  Wright expressed his admiration for the students after the event, telling Carol Barman, the advancement director at St. Vincent’s, “Those were the most impressive children.  My residents enjoyed the experience so much and the children were so kind and loving in their interactions with the seniors.”

“Our 7th-grader Julian Watrin was very impressive to me,” said Barman. “He was walking with his senior holding her hand telling her that he played soccer and asking her if she did any sports when she was in middle school.  He then had a conversation with her the whole time.” When certificates were awarded at the end of the event, Watrin’s senior partner asked him to write his name on her certificate, since they completed the program together. 

Lambert believes both students and seniors benefitted from the event. “I watched both the student’s and the senior’s faces light up when the seniors arrived.  When the buses arrive from Sunrise Living, the students immediately met them and helped them walk down to the track. You could tell how excited the seniors were to meet them.” 

Students and staff later made arrangements to visit the Sunrise Senior Living Center next month, and every month for the duration of the school year. 

 “When seniors get a visit from our students, they know it is a unique experience,” Lambert said. “The students are not just coming in on Halloween; these are people they will see all year.”