Once the initial connections and plans have been made, the rubber then really hits the road. Jumping into the actual GrandPals project work can be fun, exhausting and at times discouraging. It can be very helpful for those engaged in the process to hear from others about the pitfalls and joys that take place along the journey:

Managing Expectations

Any person who is getting into this program are going to have problems. There is not one project that we have ever worked on that didn’t run into a problem.      Anna Hardy – Program Manager – Long Term Care

Sometimes you do run into some setbacks and glitches in the program. We had issues with seniors who dropped out, so we had to find new partners for our students. We had issues with students not behaving so well, so we had to correct that. Lynda Brown – Teacher

Encouraging Students & Facilitating Learning

Shirley had a lot of siblings. I don’t know how she survived – I have one brother! At first I was kind of scared because I didn’t want to make her upset by asking personal questions. It took me about two meetings and then we were fine talking with each other.      Hannah Osmond – Student

I was scared. and when I was asking questions I was stuttering and stuff. I wasn’t sure if he got it and then he started to answer and I was like, ¨Wow this is easy!¨. Every Wednesday I used to think “Yes, GrandPals! Time to talk!
Alyssa Curry – Student

So for me, the education part is for the kids. Definitely just being open. Letting them know that they are allowed to ask questions. It is okay for them to feel uncomfortable initially. It’s okay. We all do and I think that is what we forget with the kids – that we expect them to have the answers and know how to react, without making a mistake. We are going to make mistakes. We may ask questions that may be inappropriate, but it’s okay, because that is the whole point. You are suppose to learn.      Anna Hardy – Program Manager – Long Term Care Facility

Students really were curious about Alzheimer’s and dementia, because we were working with a long-term care facility. So we brought in our Alzheimer’s Society and they did a great presentation for the kids. Students could better understand what Alzheimer’s is about, and how they should interact with seniors in our local community. If a senior was ¨acting strange¨, students could better understand what the senior was going through. That piece was a really important part of the learning the process. We also lost some of the seniors during the time we were running the program, so these were some teachable moments too. The school social worker spoke to the students on loss and bereavement and how to get through it and recover. There were several students who had already lost their grandparents, so it became a very teachable moment for the kids.      Cecilia Vespa – Community Librarian

One student’s grandpal came from Pigeon Lake. She wanted to find out everything there was about Pigeon lake in Canada. She discovered there are all kinds of Pigeon Lakes all over the world. She started comparing. All of sudden she is comparing and contrasting two areas in the world; one here in Canada and one in Europe. Two Pigeon Lakes. How are they alike? How are they different? It allowed the learning to become the students learning rather than me directing it.
Donna Calanchie – Teacher

Managing the Project

I knew the work that the students would be completing…I had that in my mind, but I really didn’t know the amount of time and hard work it would take to complete these tasks, and really complete these to the expectations and standard that we were looking for. It couldn’t look sloppy. It couldn’t have punctuation errors – it really did take a lot of time.
Tim Buchan – Teacher

Expectations for Student Writing

In terms of expectations and standards for student’s work, teachers need to have the absolute highest standards. A real world project that’s going to have a real world audience, and therefore you can’t create presentations that are flawed and don’t get your ideas across. Students are preparing presentations for a real audience. They’re preparing a lifebook for an elder that they’ve developed a relationship with. And therefore they understand that it has to be near perfect, or as close to perfect as they’re able to get it. So having very high expectations is critical to the project, and it’s also very natural, because of its real world implications.      Paola Argentino – Principal

Tips and Tricks for Promoting Excellence in Student Work

Some tricks for developing the excellence that you want in these final products are having lots of people to help you to provide feedback for the students. So for instance you might invite some parents into your program to help do some editing with students. You might invite your teacher librarian to help with that feedback that’s necessary to make this project successful. Invite your special education resource teacher. The more people you have that can help students review their work, get some feedback, work on it some more, bring it back, have you look at it again and say ‘what do I need to do next?’ The more you can do that and be very natural with it and instantaneous with it, the more excellence you’ll get out of the product.      Paola Argentino – Principal

Celebrating Successes

It’s really nice and you’re making a new friend. It’s nice just to talk with your GrandPal and not have to worry about what you’re going to say. It’s not a text bubble, it’s a conversation face to face. That’s really important.

My grandpal told us a story about when she was younger: Her brothers and sisters were all sleeping and her Dad saw something outside, woke everyone up and they saw one of the first planes to fly at night. It was really cool to hear about one of the first planes to fly.      Alexandra Keith – Student

They were mostly interested in things about the war. They would ask me a lot of questions about that and I would answer as best I could. We found out what their life was like too. It’s a lot different from when we grew up. I just love the program and I’ve enjoyed it right from the beginning. I hope I’m not getting too old to handle it, if I’m here next year.
Cecil Rowe – Senior – 95 Years Old

We were actually quite blown away by the pen pal exchanges. The expectation was that they simply respond to each other’s letters. But we saw stuff that would make you cry – and we did cry, pretty much every time we reviewed the letters. Just wonderful encouragement from seniors and heartfelt responses from students. For example, “You know what? I went out and researched your story. Here’s a picture of what I researched. Is this the ship you were on?” It was absolutely beautiful.
Cecilia Vespa – Community Librarian

We booked 1 hour for visits with the seniors and another half hour for when we got back to the school, to talk about how the interviews went. The students loved to share with each other and would sometimes be moved to tears by what they heard. That was probably the most impactful for me. Also, as the program progressed, the seniors would be waiting for us at the door when we came for our visit, with big grins on their faces. Towards the end of the program, my students were running into the long term care facility to hug their Grandpal.     Kristie Walraven – Teacher

It’s a great program. I’ve learned a lot from it. I think that the children have learned a lot from it too. When they arrive, they run in and they compete with each other to sit closest to you. I think it’s wonderful for the children because you answer all kinds of questions. It makes me happy, and other seniors, to know that we are still needed. And you feel needed, you really do.     Lorraine O’Donnell – Senior

The highlights started to come at the end, when we started to see the books come to fruition and see the results of all the work. And just to see – I was amazed at the writing that the students were able to produce. The artwork surprised me – the students took a lot of effort and time creating the portraits. It was really important to them that they do a good job. They would race and redo and they were really critical cuz they knew that this was for their grandpal, and they wanted to make sure that their grandpal would like it when they done.     Lynda Brown – Teacher

Parents were becoming really involved in what was happening, because they thought the project was so worthwhile. Their kids were developing this kind of deeper understanding that “every person is a story¨. The students were coming to see that what they were learning from others could help them grow as young people.      Sherrie Parks – Teacher

I noticed good things were happening when she was waking up in the morning and excited to go to school. For an 11 year old girl, that’s not something you would expect. She’s hopping out of bed on GP day, and she just can’t wait to get there. Hiking through -20 degree blizzards, she didn’t care. And I think there was a day when the schools were closed for weather, she was disappointed and wanted to know if she could still get there, to the seniors home. That’s pretty cool.
Jeremy Curry – Parent

The thing that struck me about the program is that it gave me a chance to do a kind of informal life review. It’s not the kind of thing I would normally be sitting around doing. It gave me a chance to go back and look at different events in my life and string them together into a coherent personal history.

I would encourage seniors to be part of this. It is theoretically part of our role as a seniors to be repositories of knowledge or wisdom. Not just repositories of historical details, but the wisdom found within those details. But seniors need to realize that they have to connect with the kids at the level they are at. Those of us who have had grandkids, or great grandkids, we know that there are some limitations – but we can share things that students will understand. My advice is to talk to the students like you would talk to your own kids or your grandkids. They are first of all people – they are human beings. Take time to listen to the students. Ask them what their take on a particular question is. It’s not just a matter of one way communication.      Robert MacIntyre – Senior