School Trips with a Difference

11 Dec 2017

It’s not unusual to find a group of school children in one of our care homes in any given day of the week.  Emma Shrimsley finds out why our partnerships with schools are so important for all involved. An 80-year age gap means nothing when you are enjoying a piece of cake and a good story. There’s no doubt this is one of the reasons pupils at Akiva Primary School clamour to be among those chosen each time there is a visit to Jewish Care’s Rubens House nearby. Susy Stone, head-teacher at Akiva Primary school in Finchley, says the pupils love their visits.

“We went in for Jewish Care’s Great Jewish Bake day, which was fantastic, and then back again to bake honey cakes for Rosh Hashanah and we will be visiting soon for Chanukah. The last two times we took along some of our Chamber Choir so that they could sing to the residents.

“The children came back really excited this last time, with the honey cakes and cupcakes they made. I think it is great for the residents to have children around and to get to know them, and it is also wonderful for the children to spend time with the older generation."

“At one point while we were there, one of the residents was chatting to the children about Chanukah and how they celebrated when she was a child. There were tears in her eyes when she spoke and the children were listening so attentively. It was a wonderful moment to see them together.”

Akiva School is just one among many nurseries, primary and secondary schools to spend time with residents at Jewish Care’s 11 homes across London and the South East. Bushey Ganim nursery; Saks Morasha; Eden Primary; Etz Chaim; Hertsmere Jewish Primary; JPS; Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School; Immanuel College, JFS and Hasmonean School are regular visitors as well.

Neil Taylor, Director of Care and Community Services at Jewish Care, says it’s so important for Jewish Care’s residents to feel that they are part of the wider community.

“While some of our residents can go out and about, there are many others who cannot, so the fantastic partnerships we have with schools are invaluable.

“It is amazing to see how quickly young people of all ages feel comfortable going into our homes and chatting with residents. Shared interests – from current affairs to football to art – quickly emerge. The age gap disappears and instant connections are made.”

At Bushey Ganim nursery, the JOY project brings children together with Jewish Care residents and day centre members who come in to visit with the children. JOY stands for Joining Old and Young but the acronym says it all.

Once a month, young and old get together for singing, games and art – or festival-related activities. These fun, intergenerational sessions stimulate interaction. While the nursery teachers and carers are both trained as facilitators the aim is to allow Jewish Care clients to drive the sessions.

Jenny Kossew, educator and musical entertainer, who established the JOY project, explains: “Fifteen years ago I noticed that many nurseries and day centres share the same site. It seemed a natural progression for me to combine the two age groups. When I brought them together to interact through music, the outcome was overwhelming JOY.

“For older people I saw empowerment, a sense of having a role to play and positive anticipation. Many would comment that sessions made them feel young again. For the children, I noticed developments in confidence, attention, communication and listening skills. They learned to respect the needs of older people and became much more at ease with the generation gap.”

Resident Maria Driffill loves the visits. She says: “When we see the children, it is one of the best activities of the day, the week, the month, the year. I adore them.”

At the other end of the school-age spectrum pupils from Immanuel College in Bushey and Haberdashers Aske’s Boys School in Elstree are regular visitors at Princess Alexandra Home in Stanmore.

Immanuel College teacher Bradley Conway, who co-ordinates the visits from Year 8 and 9 students, says: “As part of our Shevet Achim – social action – programme, we visit the residents in the Princess Alexandra Home prior to the different Jewish festivals.

“These visits allow the enrichment of the students’ Jewish education, the enhancement of their connection with members of the community and imbues them with the importance of doing Chesed. As a result of making and delivering various activities and gifts to the residents, i.e. flower arrangements for Rosh Hashanah, fruit baskets/platters for Tu B’Shvat, etc. the students begin to recognise the importance of their actions in society and the positive impact they have on the residents. Furthermore, the students are often amazed by some of the stories they hear from the residents about their lives, how different society was and the various changes that have occurred.

“These visits have been extremely beneficial to our students and we look forward to continuing our long standing relationship with the home and its residents, continuing with a musical visit from our choir as a lead-up to Mitzvah Day.”

Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School teacher Christoph Raatz accompanies students from Year 10 and above to Princess Alexandra Home on Friday afternoons, where they help with kiddush and talk to residents.

“It’s an option as part of our social service activities and it’s very popular – particularly with pupils who are considering a career in the care profession,” says Mr Raatz.
“The partnership has been in place for years and we really value the links we have formed with the home. Being there for kiddush gives us a real sense of community. Over time the boys have got to know the residents and they have built up relationships with each other.”

Social Care Co-ordinator at Princess Alexandra Home Celine Cohen says the residents really look forward to spending time with the children.

“They love chatting to them. It’s really stimulating for them and they also enjoy feeling like they are imparting some of their story and wisdom to the younger generation. It makes our residents feel they are part of the wider community beyond our doors. And from what I can see the pupils really engage and benefit too.”

Neil Taylor adds: “Social care isn’t traditionally the sort of career path young Jewish children consider, despite this being a sector crying out for talented, caring individuals. Deep down I would love to think that our partnerships, particularly with secondary schools, open pupils’ eyes to the world of social care and the possibilities and opportunities it could present to them.”