Wanted: a few good senior citizens

2014 was the first year volunteers from the Roseville Area Senior Program joined Fairview Alternative High School students in the classroom as mentors. (submitted photo)
2014 was the first year volunteers from the Roseville Area Senior Program joined Fairview Alternative High School students in the classroom as mentors. (submitted photo)

FAHS students learn from volunteer mentors

It’s not every day that silver-haired adults are asked to attend high school classes.

But that is exactly what Fairview Alternative High School and the Roseville Area Senior Program are hoping will happen again this year.

They are searching for senior citizens who are willing to be part of a special course for high school students, many of whom are from different countries and cultures.   

They are looking for mature adult volunteers who will mentor and share life experiences this spring with FAHS teens in a social justice class, which is part of the social studies curriculum.

According to Jaymee Chanen, the Roseville Area Senior Program service coordinator, this is the second year the class will be held. Chanen is responsible for choosing the senior mentors who will be part of the intergenerational program.

“The seniors who participated last year enjoyed it,” she said. “And both the students and the seniors learned from each other.”

Coincidentally, four of the five volunteers in 2014 had been classroom teachers at one time.

However, there are no specific qualifications to be a mentor, except the willingness to attend one class a week on Mondays or Wednesdays from March 24 through June 11 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. Ideally, at least two or three seniors will be available each day to participate in the program.

Some of the teens are refugees from foreign countries, and Chanen says they particularly appreciate having older adults in the class.

“Since many do not have grandparents here, they treasured being with a ‘grandparent,’ the role some of the senior volunteers became.”

Both the students and the seniors learned from each other—the students gaining valuable life lessons and the seniors remembering what it’s like to be a teenager.

“It was a unique arrangement which also helped the seniors relate to their own grandchildren,” Chanen added.    

Unique program at FAHS

Fairview Alternative High School offers a less traditional, more flexible environment than Roseville Area High School. It was created to expand options for students and give them a more flexible schedule while helping them graduate from high school. FAHS students attend classes in math, science, English, social studies, fine arts and physical education, as well as being able to take part in activities at RAHS.

Since some students are from foreign countries, they may be learning English for the first time. At least 15 different flags hang in the school hallways, each representing the original nation of students from counties such as Burma, Somalia, Thailand, Mexico and Honduras, as well as the U.S.

At FAHS, students have the opportunity to earn their high school diploma while they combine school and a career, improve academic and vocational skills, and learn through individualized and small-group instruction.

They develop and define social skills, and explore responsible patterns to make positive life choices.

Laura Tucci is the social studies instructor who plans the social justice unit. This year, the lesson plans will include topics such as racism, gender inequities, discrimination and poverty, sexism and bullying.

“The students may learn how individual people can affect and change our country,” Tucci says, pondering future lesson plans.

Overcoming obstacles

Last year’s focus was on “overcoming obstacles,” Tucci explained. Students had discussions on life stories and how individuals beat the odds. One story was taken from a former student who survived abuse and tragedies, overcoming them to graduate college and become a successful architect. “She overcame a lot,” Tucci said.

The mentors also shared their experience and what they had overcome in their lives. Some of them had gone on to success even though their own lives had been hard.

“It was eye opening ... and inspiring [for the students],” Tucci said. “They really, really liked it.”

Tucci said both the mentors and students benefited from the class, but felt the kids really gained rich insights.

“It was an awakening,” she said. “They learned that all the things you are dealing with, you can overcome, and there are people who survived worse things.”

Recently one student asked her, “Are we going to do the mentor program again?”

Yes indeed. Tucci hopes to form small groups, pairing each mentor up with three to four students. The class may read an article or a case study, or watch a video clip and discuss it. The class is evaluated on participation and graded on a pass/fail basis.

This year, lesson plans will focus on how individual people can affect and change the country. Tucci wants the classes to progress beyond just looking at the problems and instead ask, “What can I do about it?”

With input from senior mentors, the teens may be inspired to see how they can change the world around them and make it better, a lesson objective Tucci hopes will become a reality.

To become a mentor or for more information about the program, call the RASP office at 651-604-3520.

Vonny Rohloff can be reached at roseville@lillienews.com.

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