At last count, Arlene Bell had eight grandchildren. Her great-grandchildren ... well, she’s stopped counting.
The point is not one of them lives at Windy Hill Village, a retirement community located in Philipsburg where the age of the average resident trends a little bit older.
Fortunately, the fountain of youth is located just across the street. Students from Philipsburg Elementary School brave that walk at least once a month for Book Buddies, a program that pairs third-grade readers with a willing audience of senior citizens.
“I never had to tell them a word they can’t say. It’s amazing,” Bell said.
I never had to tell them a word they can’t say. It’s amazing.
Teacher Tina Smay pitched the program to Windy Hill last summer as a way to bolster students’ confidence with a book and elevate their social skills at the same time.
“It gives them good practice reading, but it also gives them good interaction with an elderly person that they can build a rapport with,” Smay said.
The kids have rallied behind the project, often picking out their books two weeks ahead of time. Genres range from comedy to stories about the holidays, dogs, even the occasional cat.
“They cover just about everything,” Bell said.
Students usually divide into groups of about three buddies per senior and take turns showing off their books.
Student Jonah Parsons did not make his selection lightly. He road tested “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” several times before putting it in front of Bell a few weeks ago.
I really like this story because I’ve read it since the first grade and it’s a very good book.
“I really like this story because I’ve read it since the first grade, and it’s a very good book,” Jonah said.
In the past, lucky Windy Hill residents may have also caught Jonah’s performance of a free verse poem he wrote about video games.
There’s a trade secret he employs whenever stage fright hits.
“I just stop thinking about it,” Jonah said.
Smay encourages the students to take the time and chat with their hosts after the final page has been turned — usually about siblings or pets.
Bell has no complaints.
“I always ask them for hugs before they leave, and they always give them to me,” Bell said.