For more than 40 years, a sewing program offered at South Washington County Schools has been working to foster intergenerational communication.
Project GO, which stands for Grandparents Organized, a program that matches District 833 third-graders with senior volunteers to help the youngsters acquire the kind of socialization skills that will benefit them well into adulthood.
While its focus is on learning to sew, the program is more specifically aimed at developing communication skills and bridging the age gap, organizers said.
"They introduce each other, so it's social skills and it's also interacting with older adults," said Rebecca Kropelnicki, the program's director. "They get a lot from it. It's socialization with an older adult. And a lot of kids don't have their grandparents living nearby."
These days, the program reaches 58 classrooms in 22 schools across the district, which serves the cities of Woodbury, Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, and Newport, Kropelnicki said. It runs from October through May and is paid for through the schools' PTOs, she said.
Kropelnicki, marketing coordinator for the district's Community Education program, said the group of about 17 volunteers come to the students' classrooms once a week, where they get down to the business of making pillows out of old T-shirts.
When Kropelnicki sits in on sessions across the district, she notices that students are initially hesitant to open up around adults. To break the ice, some of the seniors regale their young charges with tales of their childhoods.
"They like the time together, and the conversation is kind of suggestive that the older adults talk to the children about what their childhood was like at the age of 9 or 10," Kropelnicki said.