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North Trail Elementary School students visit with residents at The Fountains at Hosanna! on a bi-weekly basis. During the off weeks, they learn to play games or do different activities so they're ready for the following week's visits.

North Trail students, Lakeville seniors bridge generation gap

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There's no such thing as a generation gap between North Trail Elementary School students and residents of a Lakeville senior living community. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

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Since January, NTES has partnered with The Fountains at Hosanna! to bring students and residents together as part of a project simply called, Generations.

Kindergarten teacher Kris Andree came up with the idea for Generations. North Trail puts a lot of emphasis character development in students, and Andree knew The Fountains had recently opened. She approached Fountains activity director Mari Strong, and asked if Strong thought the residents would enjoy some elementary school company once in a while. Strong embraced the idea.

"She received a very enthusiastic 'yes' from me," Strong said. "It's my personal feeling we can never get enough of the inter-generational relationships."

Andree didn't know if kids would be interested in going to visit the seniors. She figured she'd get a group of 20 or so who wanted to participate, so she was pretty surprised when more than 100 students signed up.

"We really weren't sure what the response would be, so it was hard to plan at first," Andree said. "The response initially was more than anyone anticipated."

The interest prompted Andree to create four separate groups of students who take turns going to The Fountains. The visits are scheduled for Tuesday afternoons. Andree has set up a schedule where one group will spend a week learning an activity to share with the seniors, and then they will go do that activity the next week. All four groups of students rotate through the same schedule.

Andree works with some of her fellow teachers, a few parent volunteers, and some teaching assistants to come up with the activities they teach to students. The activities are designed to entertain and teach, of course, but the underlying hope is that the students and the residents will strike up conversations, and maybe even make new friends.

"The kids generate some of the ideas for what they want to do next time. Sometimes it works to do something seasonal, sometimes it doesn't. So far, we have done a mingle, Bingo, and played card games. I got some input from Mary because there are some physical limitations or space limitations. I keep teasing that we won't do any glitter projects," Andree said.

The residents of The Fountains really look forward to those visits, too, Strong said.

"When we have Generations, we're really talking about interaction and building relationships. That's what's so beautiful and that's why this program is working," Strong said. "The kids come and I can see the sparkle and the smiles, and that just makes their day. I can tell you that, because the seniors rave about it for days."

Whatever North Trail teachers are doing to teach traits like respect, courtesy and kindness, it seems to be working, in Strong's opinion. She stands at the doorway when the kids come in and leave, and is always impressed by how well behaved the students are the entire time they are at The Fountains campus.

The project has exceeded Andree's expectations.

"The kids have been just amazing and the seniors have been amazing," Andree said. "Now that it's under way, I think both sides have really benefited from it."

Strong agrees.

"As one of the first groups was leaving, I overheard one of the girls saying, 'Old people are really cool!' That just gives me goosebumps. That's what it's all about," Strong said.

Busing for the trips to The Fountains at Hosanna! are sponsored and funded by the Farmington Lions Club.

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Michelle Leonard
Michelle Leonard started covering the Farmington community in June, 1994. Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the Farmington American Legion Auxiliary Unit 189, and acts as the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 
(651) 460-6606
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