JENKS, Okla. — Grace Skilled Nursing and Therapy in Jenks is not only a home for seniors but a well-loved classroom home for some Jenks pre-K and kindergarten students.
Founded in 1999, this Jenks Public Schools collaboration was the first early childhood inter-generational classroom in the state. It has been so successful it's been used as a model worldwide.
"Multiple studies have shown the interaction between kids and elders helps their social lives, and so we are excited to offer this," says David Barrett, Administrator for Grace Skilled Nursing and Therapy. "This has been going on for over 20 years now, and it's been a really unique program,"
Before the pandemic, the kids and the "Grands" worked hard and played hard alongside each other.
"I love to play with the children," says Margaret Skidmore, who the kids refer to as Grandma Margaret. "When they go outside, I always open the blinds to my room. I tap on the window, and I want the kids to come over and play with me."
The pandemic meant coming up with creative solutions to keep everyone safe. For the past two years, the two groups have been physically separated, staffers keeping them connected through screentime and glass play.
"Even though the distance, their bond is just incredible to see," says Mariah Bellamy, School Liaison.
With COVID-19 numbers trending down, a "Grand Reunion" is underway.
"With the positive rate in the county getting to the point that it's been lowered enough that we can allow some face-to-face interaction if they wear masks and are socially distanced," says Barrett.
Slowly, activities are returning, like morning exercises where a select few work out their wiggles each day. The fun doesn't stop there. The kids have many favorite ways to interact with the Grands.
"Play with them," says Beckett.
"I play with the grandmas on the puppets sometimes. We sing songs and play too," says Amelia.
"We get to fist bump them and high-five them in the morning and the afternoon when they leave," Cooper says. "It makes me happy because when I get to high five the grandmas and grandpas, it makes them happy!"
In a classroom where precious friendships span generations, proof that everything we need to know, we learn in Kindergarten.
"I'm in my second childhood," says Grandma Margaret.
"A lot of times, I tell the grandmas 'I love you,'" says Amelia.
Be sure to watch for this full story Thursday at 6 p.m.