Twice a month for over 20 years, second and third graders at University Child Development School (UCDS) visit and take on small-group activities with their “buddies” at Nikkei Manor, an elder facility serving Seattle’s Japanese community. And, says UCDS faculty member Melissa Holbert, “it keeps getting more and more magical.”
Students and their elder partners get to know each other during the school year through activities focused on a particular theme. “Thread” is this year’s topic; conversations weave through family heritage, namesakes, and history while students and their buddies make rice cakes, play board games, plant tulip bulbs, or illustrate Japanese folk tales.
The play “Baseball Saved Us” showed them how the sport helped prisoners in Japanese internment camps in World War II, including one of their elder partners, who went on to become a catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“The elders like seeing us every time,” says third grader Evan H. “They smile a lot; some like to talk and ask us questions. We enjoy seeing them, too. Kids who have never gone before feel a little nervous. But after they’ve gotten to know their buddies they don’t feel shy.”
UCDS believes that a culture of inquiry is essential to meaningful learning, so students record their experiences, thoughts, and feelings in journal entries after each visit. In May, their elder buddies will visit the school to share these reflections and take a tour of the classrooms.
“It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” says Ms. Holbert, “Through conversations about each other, the students and elders create friendships that are surprisingly strong.”