Families & the Community Q&A

How One High School Became a Model for Intergenerational Learning

By Caitlynn Peetz — March 22, 2023 5 min read
Swampscott High School students and Senior Center members hold a quilt they made together for Black History Month at Swampscott High School, which is collocated and shares space with the senior center in Swampscott, Mass., on March 8, 2023.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Swampscott, Mass., is setting the standard for intergenerational learning.

In the small town north of Boston, school and community leaders pooled their resources in 2007 to build a new high school and senior center, collocated in the same building.

It’s a unique set-up that lends itself to partnerships beneficial to both students and older adults, and could be a model for other communities as more Americans age and the school-aged population shrinks.

The high school and senior center are in the same building, but each is concentrated in its own area, with separate entrances. The high school sometimes shares its communal spaces—like the cafeteria, gym, fitness center, dance studio, computer labs, and lecture halls—with the senior center, and students and seniors often intermix.

Swampscott High School Principal Dennis Kohut and the senior center’s outreach social worker Sabrina Clopton talked with EdWeek about the set-up and how they make the collaborations work. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What kind of programs are in place for students and seniors to interact?

Kohut: There are so many, and it continues to evolve.

Last year, students interviewed some folks in the senior center about their experiences around race in America, which was awesome and really well done. Then we had an all-school assembly—the first one we did coming out of the pandemic, which brought everyone together in a fun way.

Editor’s Note: Swampscott High School’s student population is about 75 percent white. The school participates in the METCO Program, in which Black and Latino students from nearby towns are enrolled in the school. METCO began in 1966 in Massachusetts to help desegregate schools.

Clopton: When the senior center launched our website, the students set up a booth here where we had our Chromebook out and they were training our seniors on how to access the website. We have appointments here at least once a week, where the kids in the “tech ninjas” program volunteer to teach seniors how to work technology.

The school also has a program for kids ages 18 to 22 with developmental delays, which has more of a focus on transitioning to workforce readiness or developing life skills. So, we’re a really logical partnership for that because there are a lot of like, work-related kind of skills that can be implemented here without the stigma of kind of doing it at school with kids that they’ve gone to school with for years.

The older students help maintain our coffee bar. They help with getting rooms ready for activities, and every Friday they help set up for a movie that we do every Friday here at the senior center.

There are mainstream students who come in to help, too, so there’s collaboration on a lot of fronts. I would say that students are pretty much fully integrated into the operation of the senior center at this point.

Are there any unstructured interactions between students and seniors?

Clopton: The outdoor spaces are really where a lot of the synergy happens. There’s an outdoor track that we walk on and oftentimes we cross paths with education classes that are coming and going, which is really cool and energizing for the seniors.

It’s also about a mile to walk around our campus, and it takes us through a community garden the physical education students use and our seniors have been interested in helping maintain.

What benefits do these collaborations have for both the students and seniors?

Kohut: I think for a lot of students, it gives them a chance to really hone skills and build their self-confidence. Some of our tech ninjas are truly experts at their craft.

Also, for our students of color, being consistently involved in the community is one of the goals because one thing we’ve definitely heard from them is feeling like they’re sort of separate from the community.

So, now, to have them have this opportunity to be really naturally integrated into a community service is terrific.

But it’s not only students of color, there are kids who would identify as white or Caucasian who are involved, and it’s great to see everyone together as part of the school and community, creating things that are sort of like traditions.

Clopton: On the senior center side, we love it when the kids come over. I feel like they elevate the energy when they’re here at the center. They really just bring a lot of positivity and laughter.

The seniors always want to stop and talk to the kids about what they’re thinking about for college or what’s going on with them, so it’s really good socialization.

It’s fun for them to be able to interact with kids that aren’t their own grandkids or nieces and nephews.

There’s no downside, in my opinion.

Have there been any major problems?

Clopton: Honestly, the biggest problem we’ve had is that we share parking, and sometimes kids would park in the senior spots. But I think the more the kids interact with the seniors, the less we’re seeing that problem because they’re gaining empathy and see it’s not just a parking spot, but if you take it, you’re impacting a person.

How often do school and senior center leaders talk or meet?

Kohut: We formally meet at the beginning of the school year or over the summer. We don’t really have a consistent meeting set aside—maybe we should—but it’s kind of my philosophy that it’s my role to help arrange things and make sure I’m there to support, then make sure I’m not in the way of things getting done.

Right now, the interactions have been pretty organic, and that’s worked really well for us, but that might not be the case for everyone, everywhere, and it just depends on the people you have.

What kind of changes have you made to class schedules to encourage more collaboration?

Kohut: We’re in our second year of our new schedule. We used to do a “waterfall” schedule (when students’ schedules change from day to day, so they take each class at different times), and it was great, but it also made partnerships really challenging because kids’ schedules would change every day.

So it was hard to say to [Clopton] when students were available and it would change all the time, versus their schedule being the same day-to-day and having a consistent, predictable chunk of time available.

So, if schools are thinking about this, they absolutely have to have a schedule that is relatively static—other models just don’t seem to work well with trying to do anything that’s a partnership in the community.

Do you have any tips for other communities considering a similar partnership?

Clopton: I think that identifying a goal is a good starting point for any intergenerational program. That can evolve, but if you have a goal that’s mutually aligned with the interests of both parties, that’s a recipe for success.

Whether that’s something that unifies, like a Black History Month program, or creating something that can be utilized in multiple spaces. All of our partnerships have been successful and I think that’s because there’s that mutual goal and understanding, and that gets everyone excited.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community Q&A How These District Leaders Turned Family Engagement on Its Head
Two Leaders to Learn From share insights on what family and community engagement entails.
7 min read
Families & the Community Video ‘A Welcoming Place’: Family Engagement Strategies for Schools (Video)
Schools that enlist parents as partners see positive results. Here's how to do it.
1 min read
Families & the Community Bring Back In-Person Field Trips. Here's Why
School field trips took a hit due to the pandemic and are still recovering. Educators and experts explain why they should come back.
4 min read
Students from Piney Branch Elementary School in Bristow, Va. arrive at Elizabeth Furnace Recreational Area in the George Washington National Forest in Fort Valley, Va. on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 for an outdoor education field trip. During the field trip, students will release brook trout that they’ve grown from eggs in their classroom into Passage Creek and participate in other outdoor educational activities.
Students from Piney Branch Elementary School in Bristow, Va., arrive at Elizabeth Furnace Recreational Area in the George Washington National Forest in Fort Valley, Va., on April 23, 2024, for an outdoor education field trip.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Families & the Community 5 Ways to Get Parents More Involved in Schools
Schools don't need an influx of money and resources to have effective family engagement, experts say.
9 min read
Various school representatives and parent liaisons attend a family and community engagement think tank discussion at Lowery Conference Center on March 13, 2024 in Denver. One of the goals of the meeting was to discuss how schools can better integrate new students and families into the district. Denver Public Schools has six community hubs across the district that have serviced 3,000 new students since October 2023. Each community hub has different resources for families and students catering to what the community needs.
School representatives and parent liaisons attend a family and community engagement think tank discussion at Lowery Conference Center on March 13, 2024 in Denver. One of the goals of the meeting was to discuss how schools can better integrate new students and families into the district.
Rebecca Slezak For Education Week