JUDY WOODRUFF: A new report due out later this week from the National Institute on Early Education Research finds that a number of states are struggling to find ways to improve access to high quality pre-kindergarten.
Tonight, we look at a unique approach taken by a preschool in Seattle, Washington. It’s giving children life lessons that go beyond the classroom, and providing a unique opportunity to seniors.
Special correspondent Cat Wise has our report. It’s part of our Making the Grade series on education that airs every Tuesdays.
MARY MCGOVERN, Resident, Providence Mount St. Vincent: What do you see?
CHILD: A brown bear.
CHILD: A brown bear.
CAT WISE: Mary McGovern is 95 years old, and one of her favorite things to do is read to toddlers.
MARY MCGOVERN: And what is that? A bird.
CHILD: A bird.
MARY MCGOVERN: A bird. What color is the bird?
MARY MCGOVERN: Red. Everybody knows that.
CAT WISE: Luckily for Mary, she doesn’t need to go any further than down the hall to find her young friends.
MARY MCGOVERN: Oh, see, look in here is the little kids in there.
CAT WISE: Oh, yes.
McGovern lives at Providence Mount St. Vincent, a nursing home in Seattle, Washington, that also houses a day care for children up to 5 years of age.
WOMAN: Thank you, honey. Thank you. There you go. Thank you very much.
CAT WISE: Every weekday, 500 residents are joined by 125 children in the facility affectionately called The Mount.
MAN: I see you.
Administrator Charlene Boyd:
CHARLENE BOYD, Administrator, Providence Mount St. Vincent: We wanted to create a place for people to come to live, and not come to die.
CAT WISE: So, in 1991, Boyd and other administrators added a high-quality preschool to the nursing home and created an intergenerational learning center, a community for the very old and very young.
Why is there is this railing here?
CHARLENE BOYD: This railing is here not for the kids, but it’s here for residents. And it’s a safety piece for a resident in a wheelchair to push themselves up and to hold on and to bring themselves to a standing position and watch the children through the window.
CAT WISE: So, they can stand here and look in?
CHARLENE BOYD: They can stand here and look in.
It’s putting high-quality child care in a setting that link old and young together, making the magic between these two ages together, bringing joy to the residents and joy to those young children. It’s just like this magical formula that happens every day.
WOMAN: Can I get a high-five? There. He knows how to do a high-five.
MARY MCGOVERN: Most of them, they’re curious about me. Why are you here? I tell them I’m here because, when I was living in my house, when I got too old, I wasn’t always walking straight, and sometimes I would fall. And if fell, I had to have some help to get up, because I couldn’t get off the floor.
I want to hug your baby doll.
MAUREEN MCGOVERN, Mary McGovern’s Daughter: I think there are things that both parties take away from the interactions. It’s not like a lifelong relationship, but just for that moment in time, they’re both enjoying each other’s company, and getting something out of their relationship with that person in that moment.
MARY MCGOVERN: Give me a hug. Come on.
CHARLENE BOYD: All of us have common needs to be recognized. All of us have common needs to be loved, and all of us have common needs to share life together. And so these children bring life and vibrancy and normalcy. It’s a gift. It’s a gift in exposing young families to positive aspects of aging, and it’s a gift of also having children seeing frailty, normalcy and that’s part of that full circle of life.
CAT WISE: Intergenerational activities can be spontaneous or planned, like this sing-a-long.
MARIE HOOVER, Intergenerational Learning Center: There’s 36 visit possible each week, so each classroom, six classrooms, has at least three visits, up to six visits.
CAT WISE: The director of the center, Marie Hoover, says children become comfortable with elderly residents at an early age.
MARIE HOOVER: Whether they’re in a wheelchair, or in a walker, or maybe they’re hard to understand, or you have to speak louder, it is just about who that individual is, and they adjust. The kids just don’t — they really don’t blink an eye. This is normal. This is just who this resident is.
CAT WISE: Ninety-three-year-old Harriet Thompson joined this sing-a-long on her way to the dining hall.
HARRIET THOMPSON, Resident, Providence Mount St. Vincent: I usually like to go sit down for a while before dinner, but I heard them singing, so in, we went.
CAT WISE: What do you experience internally when you’re around these children?
HARRIET THOMPSON: Happiness, just plain old happiness. You know, yes, it beats anything else. Beats television.
CHARLENE BOYD: Boredom and loneliness at sort of the plagues of older adults. There’s nothing more delightful than seeing young children with noise, with laughter. You see the residents, and they hear the sound of the kids coming down the hall, and it’s as though sunlight just came through the window.
HARRIET THOMPSON: I’m a great-great-grandmother, but they’re in another town. I can’t hold my own little girl because she’s far away. And so this is what makes me happy. You get to know them, and watch them, and act silly with them. And it’s good to feel like you’re 3 years old again.
CAT WISE: Teachers see similarities in the ways these two very different age groups communicate.
MARIE HOOVER: The brain of a toddler, and as somebody is beginning to have, you know, some signs of dementia, the brains are similar, and their development, or their decline, is similar.
CAT WISE: That was apparent in this art class, where resident John Goss, a retired surgeon, and 5-year-old William Kraynek (ph) teamed up as painting partners.
JOHN GOSS, Resident, Providence Mount St. Vincent: This is a junk brush?
CHILD: A giant.
JOHN GOSS: Giant, yes.
He’s operating on my plain, and I’m operating on his plain, and so we have an attachment. He helped me, and we were working together.
CHILD: I used blue, and he used blue, and I used green, and he used green.
JOHN GOSS: It’s wonderfully fun, because things come out of your hand, rather than your mouth.
MARIE HOOVER: The kids are certainly of that age where this there isn’t this sense of, oh, that’s weird or something to be scared of, and I think that’s happening on both sides of the age.
CHILD: What’s your name?
ANNIE CARTER, Resident, Providence Mount St. Vincent: Annie Carter.
CAT WISE: Later the same day, William Kraynek visited the skilled nursing section of The Mount to help make sandwiches for the homeless.
CHILD: I had three sandwiches.
ANNIE CARTER: Oh, I see.
CAT WISE: Here, William partnered with 92-year-old Annie Carter.
ANNIE CARTER: We just talk about our work, just like anybody else on a job. That’s our job, so we have to do the right thing.
WOMAN: This is Alex.
MAN: How you doing?
CAT WISE: How do the children deal with difficult situations, like a resident that might be declining or even death? How do the children deal with those situations?
MARIE HOOVER: Developmentally, it’s not really something they can conceptualize. Even our oldest kids, at 5, kids don’t quite get that whole death concept.
If the kids bring that up to the teachers, then the teacher’s response is going to be, I miss Mary too. What’s your favorite memory about what she did?
And those are the kinds of things they’re going to focus in on, as opposed to somebody died. They’re just not quite ready to get that concept.
CAT WISE: Child care at The Mount is competitively priced with similar high quality preschools in the area. Currently, 400 families are on the wait list.
Administrators believe The Mount’s model can be replicated across the country, and they expect interest to peak this summer, when a documentary featuring their work called “Present Perfect” is released.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Cat Wise in Seattle.
PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.