Swampscott High School has 1,000 more seniors than your ordinary high school.
Senior citizens, that is.
Since 2007, the Boston suburb of Swampscott has fused higher learning with elderly care, joining its local high school with Swampscott Senior Center to pool resources in the community and create positive relationships between the old and young.
The result has been a rejuvenating experience for the elderly and an enriching one for the youngsters.
A portion of the 7,500-square-foot building is reserved for the senior center, where people can take dance classes, play games, and socialise. The rest of the building functions as a regular school, with classrooms, a cafeteria, and an auditorium.
By all accounts, the arrangement is going swimmingly.
Many of the activities that take place in Swampscott are shared between the students and seniors, Amy Crawford reports for CityLab.
The research into mixing ages suggests a number of benefits for those involved.
In typical circumstances, high school is divided into four grades, made up of kids between 14 and 18 years old, who take classes with kids their own age. Psychologists have found this lack of a hierarchy promotes the formation of cliques, however. Without a way to organise the entire group, members of the group break off to organise themselves.
Mixing ages avoids this superficial effect, research has found, which suggests the Swampscott model might truly be effective at promoting positive relationships between the young and old.
In the case of Swampscott, teenagers learn how to knit from the seniors. The senior center receives 25 free tickets to the high school’s performances, and some seniors even perform in the school’s talent show. Both groups bake pottery in the art room’s kiln.
“It’s just a positive neighborly relationship,” Principal Ed Rozmiarek told CityLab. “This building is called Swampscott High School, but it’s a community space, and it was designed that way.”
The building itself was the brainchild of Philip Poinelli, a principal at Symmes Maini & McKee Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The existing senior center was housed in an old Victorian home, which held only a few dozen members. Poinelli reasoned that spending money to build an entirely new senior center would be frivolous, considering the local high school had many of the same facilities.
Combining the building was a no-brainer.
Rozmiarek acknowledges there isn’t as much of a formal relationship between the staffs of the high school and the senior center as he’d like. But when the seniors and students do interact — in the hallways, outside on the lawn — the older folks aren’t afraid to put the young ones in their place.
“It’s fun to tease them,” says Eddie Cohen, an 89-year-old who visits several times a week. “It keeps your mind active.”
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