A pilot program that began in spring semester in a handful of New York City schools teaches students about the harm of ageism and the value of intergenerational connection.
The program, “Intergenerational Connections to Fight Ageism,” was established by New York City’s Department for the Aging and its Department of Education.
Program creators believe the initial step in learning about age discrimination, like any other form of discrimination, is by educating through others’ perspectives.
The idea for the program was sparked by two high school internships where students had to work with older adults. Students participating in the internship began asking questions about ageism and wanting to understand why older generations are often stereotyped.
“They said Disney has all these characters that were old and wicked or spooky or scary. Or grandmothers that turned into wolves,” NYC Aging Commissioner Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez told MarketWatch.
She added, “Just out of the mouths of these young people came this idea to talk about ageism. And where better to talk about ageism than schools, where so many impressions are made and learning happens?”
One student who completed the course told The Wall Street Journal the class made her realize she needed to be more patient with her grandmother, who struggles with electronics.
Another student said, “I thought 60 and up was very old, but the class really changed my mind.”
Program creators believe that teaching the course to middle schoolers and high schoolers can prevent future generations from the harmful effects of discriminating against people based on their age. They add that people of all ages can be victims.
“If you see how you are marginalized and disenfranchised and hurt” by ageism, Cortés-Vázquez told Chalkbeat, “you would think about doing that to someone else.”
Kaydiana O’Mealley, who teaches at the School for Human Rights in Brooklyn, has incorporated anti-ageism education into her economics courses. Her goal is to combat age discrimination in the workplace.
Michael Prayor, superintendent of high schools in South Brooklyn, told Chalkbeat these programs are personal for him.
“I think of my own father, who’s 93 years old, and I want him to live in a society where he is still respected, loved and cared for as a senior citizen,” he said. “One of the best ways to go about creating a society that supports and reveres the elderly is to start with educating our young people.”
Students who participated in the classes will be interviewed this summer so that adjustments can be made to improve the program. Program designers plan to expand the classes to ages as young as middle school, hoping to help youth better recognize age biases and put an end to ageist ideals.