Class Project Lets Students Work With Seniors
Trish Harris' gerontology class at Sandhills Community College (SCC) visited the Health Center at St. Joseph of the Pines (SJP) recently to experience the world of senior adults.
The class project was designed by Harris to offer a supplemental learning tool for her students. They left the classroom and their books behind and reached instead for questions designed to elicit responses from the long-term and rehabilitation residents with whom they were paired.
Perhaps more importantly, these human services students with aspirations of working in the field of social work, brought youth, warmth and good listening skills with them.
Harris' human services classes frequently work with the volunteer services and clinical social work departments to further educational pursuits and enhance the education of students through the internship, or co-operative learning program.
Shametica Pratt's enrollment in Harris' class a year ago yielded a successful outcome that she said was inspired by the few St. Joseph of the Pines residents who gave of their time to field questions by the class focusing on matters of aging.
That effort resulted in a stint at the Health Center to satisfy Pratt's cooperative assignment for college. She logged 160 hours for the course requirement and garnered the attention of the two clinical social workers charged with overseeing the assignments. From Jan. 14 through April 4 of this year, Pratt worked alongside Beth Price and Raymond Esteves, St. Joseph's clinical social workers, listening, learning and taking direction. With a plan and a proverbial smile etched on her face, Pratt graduated with an associate degree in human services in the spring.
"This is a real success story," says Harris.
Pratt was offered a part-time position as an assistant social worker at St. Joseph and within a few months was asked to go full-time.
In a similar learning situation, students Chris Bethune, Nikki Braziel, Carmen Garst, Millie Gill, Krista Ivey, Joyce Moore and Terry Spencer participated in the exercise Oct. 13, to promote understanding of the world of senior adults.
"I meant for the experience to help students be intentional about how they interact with seniors," says Harris. "I hoped they could discover how important memories are to us. So often people say 'older adults just live in the past.' Well, the past is lovely. It is full of accomplishments, joys, proud moments and things we are joyful and thankful for. I think reminiscing can be a positive experience for seniors."
Harris, though, requested that her students also be given the chance to meet seniors who had less than perfect memory recall.
"I wanted the students to experience this also," she says.
Back on the SCC campus, the class as a whole participated in a reminiscing exercise.
"In doing this, we realized how powerful memories are and how tender and evocative they can be," says Harris. "We experienced the privilege of sharing our own memory, but also the privilege of hearing special memories of our classroom colleagues. I believe this sensitized the students to the feelings of the persons they were paired with," she said.
Pratt, on the other hand, having already graduated and now settling into her new post at SJP, was instrumental in assigning the students to the senior adults for the interviews.
You could say Pratt's career challenges have come full circle with St. Joseph of the Pines. As a certified nursing assistant (CNA), she worked with the home health care agency then associated with St. Joseph of the Pines. She continued to work as a CNA, doing private duty, as she began her studies three-and-a-half years ago to become a social worker. She spoke to the SCC students about the available options open to them with a degree. Pratt's expectations about her professional goals include heading back to school for her bachelor's degree in social work.
Pratt describes herself candidly as "friendly, kind, cheerful and always smiling." Others see this self-affirmation as lacking in a true measure of her qualities.
"Shametica has great initiative and doesn't hesitate to do what needs to be done," says Beth Price, SJP social worker. "She is on her way to developing a nice rapport with the associates from the other disciplines, and she's already started falling in love with the residents -- a prerequisite for working here."
Harris says she is filled with pride when one of her student's potential and abilities are realized in the workplace. She said she hopes her new set of gerontology students find such success, and she'll continue her cooperative efforts at SJP to give them a well-rounded approach in the growing field of human services.
"When we discussed the exercise they did at St. Joseph back at the classroom, students universally agreed that they loved it," Harris says. "I think this experience stretched our students. They love real world assignments. I can tell you that it will be one of the things they remember about this class and about senior adults."
St. Joseph of the Pines is sponsored by the Sisters of Providence and is a member of Catholic Health East. It includes the Health Center, Therapy Village, Belle Meade Retirement Resort, The Overlook and Villas at Pine Knoll, Coventry and the affordable senior living communities of Providence Place.
Jeralie Andrews is the director of volunteer services for St. Joseph of the Pines.
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