Program has Kennett students working with seniors at Kendal

Walter Herbert, a retired teacher, helps Kennett Middle School students with activities at Kendal Crosslands Retirement Community. Walter Herbert, a retired teacher, helps Kennett Middle School students with activities at Kendal Crosslands Retirement Community. FRAN MAYE — Digital First Media

KENNETT TOWNSHIP >> Every Wednesday, Betty Warner, Dave Gilbert and others at Kendal-Crosslands Retirement Community look forward to seeing young people in the halls.

For the first time in 18 years, students from Kennett Middle School’s After The Bell program are traveling to Kendal-Crosslands for a unique new inter-generational program.

Janice Spencer helps a Kennett Middle School student with a pottery project at Kendal Crosslands Retirement Community. Janice Spencer helps a Kennett Middle School student with a pottery project at Kendal Crosslands Retirement Community. FRAN MAYE — Digital First Media

“Having kids here is like a holiday,” said Warner, co-chair of Kendal’s inter-generational committee. “The residents here have lots of things they want to share, starting with affection and love. We get to know their names, their stories, and sometimes we share little things. You just can’t believe the sense of vitality kids can generate.”

The inter-generational connections in the Kennett Square community dates back to John and Denise Wood, and Marshall Newton, who founded the program in 1998. John and Denise were residents of Kendal, and Marshall lived nearby. All have since died, but the program is being revived this year.

Right now, the students are ending the winter cycle, which runs to March 3 and involves a pottery class led by Janet Spencer and a landscape drawing class led by Max Nimeck. Plans are already being considered to offer additional classes at Kendal in future cycles.

Gilbert, a retired English teacher who works with students during a six-week program in the fall and spring, enjoys teaching by making it fun. Using Newtown’s third law of motion, he help the students build a balloon-powered rocket car, where they could race them. He helped them build small solar cars.

“I don’t overdo the teaching, and want to try to have fun,” he said.

Turns out the kids love coming to the classes as much as the residents enjoy having them over.

“One of the goals of After the Bell is to engage kids in meaningful activity that might actually broaden their horizons,” said Kathy Do, executive director of After the Bell. “For the kids, this is an incredible opportunity to learn from amazing people who have had wonderful life experiences. We have been wanting to do a real hands-on inter-generational program for some time now.”

Warner said she looks forward to working with the children every week.

“Kendal residents are known for their community service, and have participated with After The Bell since its inception,” she said. “It’s easy for seniors to become isolated from the community, and in particular isolated from the youth in our community. Young people keep us engaged and allow a new outlet to share our experiences and values.”

” This job should come with a warning,” Do said. “(The seniors) will fall in love with the kids.”

After the Bell provides activities to approximately 300 students per year and has seen more than 4,500 students participate in the last 17 years. The program requires up to 200 volunteers each year to facilitate the activities and assist in the administration of the program. Many of the volunteers are seniors, many of whom are retired educators, scientists and business professionals who want to pass on their experience to the next generation.