While a seniors home may be the last place you’d expect to find teenagers hanging out on summer break, some Fraser Heights Secondary students were happy to do just that as part of a new social justice course that recently wrapped up.
The four-week course, proposed and developed by teacher Ami Kambo, saw 16 Grade 9 students and three Grade 12 peer tutors visit with seniors at Fleetwood Villa as part of a project dubbed The Human Library: Connecting the Generations.
The teens interviewed the seniors, asking about their life and experiences, with a focus on social justice. They then returned to school to write poems about their new friends, which were presented during a follow up “tea and poetry” session at the high school.
The students said they were shocked as they listened to some of the seniors’ backgrounds – like hearing war stories from a decorated veteran and a senior recalling her upbringing as a preschooler in Glasgow as bombs dropped all around her.
Avi Sran, who is in Grade 10 this school year, said hearing about the injustice the seniors experienced was shocking, yet she found it interesting to hear how different life was for them.
“We didn’t experience 9/11 or any extreme tragedies or war,” Avi said. “Fraser Heights is very pocketed. It really opened my eyes because I never really noticed, I kind of kept to myself. I didn’t realize it would happen here, I feel like a lot of us don’t realize the sexism, the hate, the racism, it happens in every community, we need to notice it and not let it slide.”
Angela Luo, also now in Grade 10, said she learned what a big difference generations can make.
“There were so many other problems,” said Angela. “Sexism was a larger problem back then, for my partner. I think society, today, has progressed so much that women can kind of share their word, as opposed to back then when they couldn’t. I really learned from her that there’s a really big difference now and then. There’s so much you learn from being with someone who is more wise, or has been through so much more.”
Grade 10 student Jenny Chen said it was “eye-opening” to hear the different generational experiences.
Robin Dandiwal, also in Grade 10, said he appreciated the opportunity his generation has, compared to and in many ways thanks to the seniors.
“They had so much to worry about back then, they had war to worry about, and that’s something we don’t even think about now. I appreciate the privileges we have,” said Robin.
Reminiscing about the experience inside the school’s library recently, the students’ smiles were as wide as the seniors.
A particularly enthusiastic senior, Moira Solis, said she was “really, really impressed” by the students.
“I think our country’s in great hands for the next generation. I don’t worry about it now, but I used to worry about it,” she smiled. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”
Teacher Ami Kambo who spearheaded the summer program said she is thankful for the district’s support in launching it, noting it was free for students.
She described the teens who participated as “really special leaders,” who signed up “to learn more about the issues of social justice in the community and make a difference.”
Surrey school district’s principal of summer learning programs Daniel To stressed the importance of intergenerational learning.
“Being able to have that intergenerational connection keeps history alive,” said To, “as a former social studies and English teacher, and being able to remember the past, and remember all the great things that happened to allow the great freedoms we have today, and the sacrifices that these seniors contributed.”
“To be able to connect with the folks who pioneered the ability for different cultures and people to come here and live this way is phenomenal,” he added, noting it’s one thing to read a history book but another to interact with someone who lived it.
This Fraser Heights program is just one of many summer enhancement programs in the district, most of which do not count for credit. Project themes can vary wildly, such as a robotics program in North Surrey.