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Retirees go back to school

Assisted-living residents find joy in reading to children

Kindergarten students at Cedar Hill Preparatory School are joined by Maxine Prescott, seated, left, and Muriel Hyman. Prescott holds a certificate stating that Stein Assisted Living’s Always a Teacher program received honorable mention for innovation from Leading Age, the state nonprofit for senior organizations. Photos by Debra Rubin
Kindergarten students at Cedar Hill Preparatory School are joined by Maxine Prescott, seated, left, and Muriel Hyman. Prescott holds a certificate stating that Stein Assisted Living’s Always a Teacher program received honorable mention for innovation from Leading Age, the state nonprofit for senior organizations. Photos by Debra Rubin

Once a teacher, always a teacher.

That idea, of a lifelong connection to the role of educator, was behind the plan to establish a program at the Martin and Edith Stein Assisted Living Residence to enable seniors who are former teachers to put their skills to good use.

The Former Teachers’ Club was launched in July to give one-time educators the opportunity to reminiscence about their classroom experiences. In September, Always a Teacher — a program that brings former educators to a school to read with and enhance the reading skills of young students — also launched.

The Stein residence is located in Somerset on the Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living, a complex of facilities and services, including independent living and hospice care, offered in the environment of a Jewish lifestyle.

Stein’s recreation co-coordinator Caitlin Kern said the other co-coordinator, Peggy Grady, came up with the concept for the club and the program. They chose Cedar Hill Preparatory School, a pre-K-to-eighth-grade private school in Somerset, to run the program, because of its longstanding relationship with Stein. (For the past 11 years, students from all grades have been visiting with Stein residents two to four times a month. Last spring, the school’s choir also entertained at the
residence.)

On the third Always a Teacher visit on Jan. 10 — future visits will be held monthly — two retirees, Maxine Prescott and Muriel Hyman, read books to an eager class of kindergartners. While only four residents are currently in the Always a Teacher program — all of whom came to the previous sessions — organizers expect it to grow over the next few months as word gets around.

Former teacher Muriel Hyman reads to kindergarten students at Cedar Hill Preparatory School.

The books they read all centered on a seasonal theme — “Winter Is Here,” “The Big Snowball,” and “The Biggest Snowman Ever” — selected by teacher Emily Selner, who added, after the story time, “The kids loved it. It was a real treat for them.”

Leaving the reading selection up to the teacher has turned out to be a good move, according to Hyman.

The first session, the visitors picked the books, she said, but it wasn’t completely successful; they seniors “didn’t know the children or what they were capable of understanding or what they’re interested in.” Having the teacher choose the books, said Hyman, “turned out to be much better,” because she knew that “the children knew all about and were interested in snow.”

Hyman said she has gotten a lot of joy out of her Always a Teacher experience. For more than 20 years she taught children with emotional disabilities, and spending time with the students at Cedar Hill brings back a lot of fond classroom memories.

Prescott — who worked at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan for 30 years, as a nurse and social worker, interacting extensively with children — said that for her it was “a total joy watching the children’s faces light up. I had so much fun with them.”

The children also reacted with joy to their classroom guests. Ayandeb Mukerji said he was happy to have them reading to the class “because it was nice and I liked the story.”

Samarth Dakhera said listening to the stories helped him learn to read, and, he added, “I like to hear about snowmen.”

drubin@njjewishnews.com

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