The Bridge: An Intergenerational Space for Learning
By AHAVA SHIRA, PhD
Iawoke this morning
with an image
de Cosson, 2004, p. 150
In June 2010, I was invited to become a consultant and facilitator for a new initiative called “Bridging the Gap”. The project was part of a school district program called “Connecting Generations”, whose servicesinclude a “Living Links” library of adults and elders in the community who are eager to engage in conversations with students about their lives, experience and career expertise. “Bridging the Gap” was intended to help youth in their transition from school to work by supporting them to build relationships with local employers and business people. As a recent PhD (2) graduate, once again navigating my own transition from school to work, I was excited to accept this serendipitous opportunity.
The Bridge projects were a response to the changing demographics of our small rural community of the Southern Gulf islands of British Columbia. In addition to having a higher proportion of residents above the age of 50 than the provincial average, the proportion of the population in the under 20 age group in the Capital Regional District (3) is already smaller than the provincial average. In a small community such as ours it is imperative in order to maintain diversity and social well-being that our population includes youth who feel inspired to live and work here. However reports from both the local Chamber of Commerce and the local branch of CARE (Career Assistance and Resources for Employment) suggested that
(a) employers were finding it difficult to hire young people who possessed the right fit of skills required for their specific industries and
(b) young people were marginalized with respect to their employment prospects due to their lack of knowledge about how to search for a job or training and about core and industry specific employability skills.
At a meeting held in Ganges in June of 2009, as part of the Collaborative Workforce Strategy prepared for the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance, the following issues were raised, echoing similar results at meetings held elsewhere on Vancouver Island:
- Poor employee attitudes among youth many of whom are lacking in soft skills
- Local small business owners have limited Human Resources skills in dealing with young employees.
We asked ourselves how we are preparing our youth to meet the unstable and unpredictable economic reality in a small rural community. Are we teaching them the skills they need to make their way? How do we encourage youth to explore career options or to return to pursue their livelihood here?
- How do I know which job or career is right for me?
- What if I have too many options, how do I choose?
- Do I have to choose one career now and stay with it?
- What if I decide I don’t like the work I’m doing?
- How do I build a work life that will support me and my future family?
These are some of the questions we wanted to help students explore through providing them with the opportunity to have face-to-face conversations with community members who could share their experiences with jobs and careers in various fields, including the details of the training and skills required.
“Bridging the Gap”
Through “Bridging the Gap,” we organized a series of forums where high school students and adult community members gathered around long tables in the high school multi-purpose room or in the library. Each forum was focused on different issues pertaining to a specific sector of the local economy (Business, Arts & Entrepreneurship, Tourism & Hospitality, Health & Healing Arts). We created questions to help the students and adults start their conversations.
For example, for the forum on Tourism & Hospitality, youth responded to the following questions:
- What skills would you like to take with you to the next stop on your career path?
- What are 4 skills or qualities that you can offer an employer?
- What are some of your concerns about getting a job, being a young employee?
- Besides skills, what other values/goals/experiences/feelings would you like to find through working in the community?
Meanwhile adults responded to these questions:
- What skills would you like to pass on to youth working with you?
- What are 4 skills and/or qualities that you look for when you are going to hire someone?
- What are some of your concerns about hiring young people?
- What are the bonuses of hiring a young employee?
The final question was responded to by both:
- How can we make tourism sustainable all year round?
It was exciting to participate in these conversations, to feel the energy in the room, the free and spontaneous engagement between youth and adults. Adults shared stories and insights from their successes and failures, the challenge of pursuing their passions along with the practicalities of their work. Students shared their skills, talents and fears, as well as their experiences with work so far. Both adults and youth shared their dreams and visions for their lives.
One of the most vital lessons for both the youth and adults was in having to reconsider the stereotypes and expectations each had had about the other.
These open-ended conversations also gave adults a space to share their frustrations with student-employees who hadn’t been responsible, with regards to punctuality or cleanliness. Students had the chance to air their disappointment with adult-bosses who hadn’t been flexible and weren’t able to let them do things their way.
Through “Bridging the Gap”, a space emerged in which students and adults engaged in authentic and meaningful learning about the world of work and their unique and particular places in it. Rather than spanning the differences between adults and students, the program encouraged each participant in
an attempt to walk (and live) on the rackety bridge between self and other and not the attempt to arrive at one side or the other (Peggy Phelan, 1993, p. 174).
“Building the Bridge”
In their captivating book, Exploring Curriculum: Performative Inquiry, Role Drama and Learning (2008), drama educators Fels & Belliveau acknowledge
The worlds that we inhabit are not independent but are in a constant state of flux, simultaneously shaping and being shaped by one another, and by us. We are, in other words, constantly co-evolving and changing as a result of our relationships and interactions with others and our environments (p. 27)
Inspired by what we learned, “Connecting Generations” developed its next initiative called “Building the Bridge,” in which community members with expertise in photography, graphic and website design collaborated with students who brought their own skills and interest to the table. Together they successfully developed a website and print brochure for the project.
In their evaluation feedback to us, both students and adults shared their appreciation for this most unusual opportunity:
“It was interesting to talk with people I've never met about a similar interest”
“It has made me aware that it is important to brainstorm ideas with people of different ages.”
To the apparent surprise and delight of many of the participants, “Building the Bridge” demonstrated that intergenerational projects can be successful –and fun!
One of the most significant successes of the “Connecting Generations” program is its creation of opportunities for conversations between people who might not otherwise connect. We are committed to fostering a practice of education that recognizes and honours how learning happens in conversation with ourselves and with the world, whether with others of different generations, beliefs, cultures, disciplines or species. It is a space where, as writer and philosopher Luce Irigaray suggests,
The horizon of the already lived and defined reopens. A space where the bridge between past, present, and future is elaborated, as well as the passages between the other and oneself (2002, p. 146-7).
As “Connecting Generations” continues to grow, its programs reflect both the strength of our community as well as the desire of its diverse members to keep learning and sharing their gifts with others. Elders who participate express their joy in being valued for telling their stories and sharing their multiple decades of experience with others. Students are excited to gain more knowledge, ask questions, learn new skills as well as to share their considerable expertise in digital technology. Indeed, through another part of the program called “Plugged In,” they teach elders how to navigate their computers, surf the web and engage in social media.
“Making Space”, the next project slated for 2012-2013, will focus on supporting more adults in the community to mentor youth in their local businesses. Through filming interviews with adults who have already mentored youth, we hope to apply the learning from their experiences to develop a multi-media resource in order to encourage and guide other adult community members to do the same.
de Cosson, A. (2004). The hermeneutic dialogue: Finding patterns midst the aporia of the artist/ researcher/ teacher (rewrite # 10 in this context). In A/r/tography: Rendering self through arts-based living inquiry, R.L. Irwin, & A. de Cosson, Eds. Vancouver: Pacific Educational Press.
Fels, L. and Beliveau, G. (2008). Exploring curriculum: Performative inquiry, role
drama and learning. Vancouver: Pacific Education Press.
Irigaray, L. (2002). The way of love. London: Continuum.
Phelan, P. (1993) Unmarked: The politics of performance. New York: Routledge.
Shira, A. (2010). Through the gates of loving inquiry: Where the heart opens into
relationship. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. University of British
A poet, storyteller, performer and long-time journal writer with 20 years experience as an artist and educator, Ahava Shira, PhD is the founder of the Centre for Loving Inquiry where she facilitates individual and group mentoring programs and retreats using metaphorical gates as openings into creative exploration, entrepreneurial development and spiritual growth. Ahava is the author of a book of poetry and a poetry CD. Program facilitator for Connecting Generations.
2. Shira, A. (2010). Through the gates of loving inquiry: Where the heart opens into relationship. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. University of British Columbia.
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