Turning Research Into Intergenerational Programs
Shawn Fields has a lifelong passion for making communities healthier through fostering positive intergenerational experiences. During her time as an Antioch University Seattle student, first in the BA in Liberal Studies degree completion program, and afterward as a Master’s of Arts in Education program, this passion was incorporated into her academic coursework, so that her education was tailored around her interests. Fields says, “I love that Antioch really cares about the students, is student-driven, and it’s our goals that are maximized and highlighted, and we get to shape our learning around that. That was really helpful for me.”
As a result of this focused course of study, first at the undergraduate and then at the graduate level, Fields founded an incorporated nonprofit organization, Connecting Generations Community Services, which serves both youth and seniors by, in her words, “creating a caring, inclusive society where every age matters.”
Specifically, Fields’ works to create partnerships between youth programs, such as preschools and senior programs, such as the planned activities in senior living facilities–arranging for seniors and children to spend time together, enriching each other’s’ lives. Fields explains that Erik Erikson’s developmental stage of Generativity vs. Stagnation shows how adults in the latter half of adulthood benefit from the opportunity to pass down knowledge such as skills and wisdom to younger generations.
Fields’ research has reflected Erikson’s theories, and has shown that senior citizens often prefer giving services to receiving services. So, offering groups of seniors opportunities to assist in the developmentally-tailored, academic and social skills education of preschool and school-age children can be of benefit to both the seniors and children alike.
One example of an activity that Fields has coordinated was giving preschool children coloring pages to fill in, to practice developmentally-appropriate fine motor skills, while senior citizens read the children the accompanying book the coloring pages were from. Fields hopes to incorporate this intergenerational learning paradigm into state school curriculum, starting in preschool and continuing into the education of older children, so that all school-age children can benefit from seniors’ biographies, skills, and more.
Fields’ first experiences with intergenerational activities started in her Christian faith, such as church-based friendships between seniors and Sunday School children, through a Christian Pals program. However, Fields’ work has branched out, into multicultural environments, including collaborations with secular organizations and organizations of different faiths, such as a Jewish senior home.
Fields says that her time at AUS has enhanced her learning in more ways than one. For example, as a Christian missionary, she experienced a welcoming, multicultural environment, in which she was encouraged to be herself while also making room for others’ diverse beliefs and identities. She says that “I’ve been able to express my faith here as well, and so I feel empowered, challenged…sometimes vulnerable, but definitely more well-rounded. I was exposed to the raw and the uncut, coming here, and that’s helped me to understand and love, and be able to work alongside people that come from different backgrounds, other than my own.”
In addition, Fields says “I want to thank the faculty. The faculty were very supportive. When I thought I was only going to do a BA, Ron Harris-White was like, ‘You’re going to go higher than a BA. You can do this!'” As a result of this encouragement, Fields graduated from AUS’s MAEd program in 2017, and this addition to her credentials in the field of education has opened doors for her. She wants to influence teachers’ curriculum at the administrative and even legislative level through her nonprofit, as well as through her individual activism towards expanding access to intergenerational programs to more and more children and adults.