In the bustling art room at Wickliffe Progressive Elementary School, a fourth-grade girl quietly worked on a special project. She brushed yellow paint onto the tiny clay heart she had molded. Then she carefully painted on the name Jim and the words “Love Eryn.”
The heart was a special gift for her new friend, who is part of the early stage Alzheimer’s program with the Alzheimer’s Association.
Every Friday for four weeks, Eryn and her classmates and Jim and other adults in the early stage Alzheimer's program have come together in the Wickliffe art room to make art and conversation thanks to a new collaboration between Wickliffe and the Alzheimer’s Association.
Through Partnerships Make a Difference, a service learning network in central Ohio, Caitlin Purk, the volunteer and advocacy coordinator for the Alzheimer's Association Central Ohio Chapter, was connected with Lindsay Bennett, the art teacher at Wickliffe. Together, they created the month-long art collaboration that began on April 6 and culminates with an art show for the students, the adults and their families on May 10.
“The idea of bringing together older adults and school-age children was so exciting for us and for our friends at the Alzheimer’s Association,” Bennett said. “Everyone is benefitting from this great collaboration.”
For the project, Bennett brought on the more than 20 students in the fourth-grade class taught by Sarah Oberlin.
“This collaboration resonates with our Wickliffe Progressive Principles and our district commitment to service learning,” Oberlin noted. “My class felt honored to be recognized as a kind, helpful and compassionate group of learners who would represent their school community.”
To prepare her students for interacting with the adult participants, Oberlin introduced developmentally appropriate literature and initiated discussions about Alzheimer’s disease. In the process, she said, “they have made connections to their own family experiences.”
Over the course of the collaboration, Bennett has led the students and the adults in creating crayon resist paintings, neighborhood collages and clay works — including the little heart that Eryn presented Jim. The most beautiful piece that has emerged from the collaboration is the sincere bond between the students and the adults, the Wickliffe teachers and the Alzheimer’s Association staff agree.
“The children have grown so much, reflecting after each session on goals for better including the adults in their conversations and sharing nice things they noticed other children doing to help,” Bennett said. “And the adults seem to enjoy making the art and get a kick out of the kids' energy and smiles.”
“It is impossible to be anything but happy when you are in the art room during this project,” Purk added. “The participants’ smiles are contagious.”