Friday, January 18th, 2013
By Amy Kronenberger
Youngsters brighten nursing home
  ROCKFORD - Cubes of melting paint and large sheets of paper helped bridge the generation gap at the Laurels of Shane Hill on Thursday.
Head Start preschool students have made themselves at home in their new classroom at the nursing home on state Route 118 just south of Rockford. The residents frequently visit and talk with the kids, and every Thursday, the students and residents participate in an intergenerational activity.
The interaction between generations has strongly affected both groups - the children have overcome shyness and the residents' morale has been raised, Head Start teacher Sara Laux said.
"Seeing the smiles on the residents' faces is priceless," Laux said. "They walk around and wave and say 'hi' to each other; the kids know the names of a lot of the residents now."
Head Start, a countywide free preschool program for children who have a disability or whose families are income eligible, serves 18 kids at the Laurels of Shane Hill and 136 kids at the Franklin Building in Montezuma. The federally-funded preschool also has 12 kids enrolled in a home-base program, through which the teacher works one-on-one with a parent and child in their home.
Laux's class previously was held at Parkway Elementary School. The program had to move this school year due to Parkway needing the classroom space. Laurels' administrators offered a spare lounge room free of charge.
"We really did it for two reasons," Laurels administrator Steve Schaaf said. "The biggest reason was it provided intergenerational opportunities ... The second reason was to help the community."
Besides handling some minor logistical issues, Schaaf said the program "has gone wonderfully. The residents are raving about it."
Schaaf said he's happy to provide the needed service to help the community.
"It's worth it," he said. "Every chance they get to spend with the students is wonderful."
When class ends on Thursday afternoons, the Laurels' staff remove all the classroom furniture and supplies and convert the room back into a lounge area. Then first thing on Monday mornings, the staff put back the desks and supplies before students arrive.
While the students are away, resident Janet Collins cares for the class fish.
"She picks it up every evening and brings it back every morning," Laux said.
During Thursday's activity, the kids showed the residents what they had learned about winter and melting ice by painting with frozen paint. Both the residents and children were painting on their hands and pieces of paper.
Laux said the residents proudly hang the artwork they made with students in their rooms.
"Last week during story time, one of the residents pulled a student onto her lap and said 'you've helped me get better faster,' " she said. "It really lifts your spirits to see what they're doing."
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