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Senior Seminars?

A group of Iowa senior citizens will soon ask state legislators to consider a proposal to add education on aging to the state's curriculum requirements.

The seniors form the Older Iowans Legislature, which met 100-strong in September for its annual mock legislative session. Among the 18 proposals that the statewide group is forwarding to Iowa lawmakers, who will convene in January, is one to integrate gerontology into existing subjects that are already required, such as health. The "bill" also calls for school-sponsored activities shared between students and older citizens.

"One of the underlying reasons to this whole thing is to get more people to work in nursing homes and as caregivers" to the elderly, said Verve Davidson, the speaker of the mock legislature and a retired high school teacher.

Older Iowans' need for care is outstripping the available resources, Mr. Davidson said. Iowa is one of four states where more than 15 percent of the population is now 65 or older.

Still, Mr. Davidson gives the bill only an outside chance in the short run, in part because it is new this year and is not the group's top priority. Some retired teachers in the group have registered reservations about the idea, saying teachers already scramble to cover the curriculum.

Nationally, the study of aging appears to get some attention in public schools' health, psychology, and sociology classes. School service projects, too, often focus on help for the elderly. But specific attention to gerontology, integrated with relevant community experience, is rare.

All too rare, decided social studies teacher Sheryl Young, who this year started a course at her Berkley, Mich., high school that might please the Iowa activists. The course at Berkley High School outside Detroit sends 11th and 12th graders into the community to work with the elderly while studying issues related to aging.

"The kids have been so excited," Ms. Young said, "because it's human being to human being."

— Bess Keller

Vol. 20, Issue 13, Page 16

Published in Print: November 29, 2000, as State Journal

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