Reading the news lately, it can be difficult to find much cause for optimism. Dominating the headlines: rising COVID-19 hospitalization, political turmoil, and economic uncertainty, to name just a few of the world’s current woes. Yet there are glimmers of hope amid the gloom. One example is a story I read last week in The Washington Post about a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, or life plan community) in Washington, D.C. and their innovative volunteer tutoring program.
An array of pandemic challenges
Like most senior living communities around the nation, residents of D.C.’s Ingleside at Rock Creek have been on precautionary lockdown since the spring in an effort to protect vulnerable seniors from a COVID-19 outbreak. Non-essential visitors have been limited, common areas have closed, and many programs and services have been altered to ensure proper social distancing. Residents have been discouraged from leaving campus for non-medical reasons.
Employees of Ingleside at Rock Creek have taken extra precautions to ensure residents remain as safe as possible, enacting their pandemic plan in March. This means ramping up cleaning procedures and infection prevention protocols.
But many employees of Ingleside at Rock Creek have been waging a separate after-hours pandemic-related battle each day. Many employees have children who are struggling to keep up with their schools’ virtual learning curriculum. When employees return home from work, they begin their second job as teacher — a job many of us parents have not been trained for!
The trouble with remote learning
As I have witnessed first-hand, remote learning works better for some children than others. Technical challenges aside, some students are simply more self-motivated, academically disciplined, or actively engaged in learning than others. Certain children truly need the structure, support, and social interaction that comes with in-person learning, and as a result are struggling to keep focused and on-task when learning on a computer screen from home.
An employee of Ingleside at Rock Creek mentioned to her supervisor the remote learning challenges she and her family were facing. Like most essential employees, CCRC employees typically are not able to “work from home.” They must be in-person to help ensure CCRC residents are fed and cared for, facilities are clean and properly sanitized, and grounds and equipment are maintained.
Since schools are closed in many parts of the country, countless CCRC employees must now leave children unsupervised at home when they go to work. And those children must now navigate their school day from home with little or no in-person assistance or supervision.
With all of this in mind, the wheels began to turn as that Ingleside at Rock Creek supervisor considered ways to help the CCRC’s employees who might also be struggling with these remote learning issues. It turns out the answer was right in front of her.
Solving the remote learning problem
Located in D.C., Ingleside at Rock Creek is home to retirees from the highest levels of government, as well as former academics, professionals, and business leaders. The collective expertise of its residents covers a wide array of subjects — knowledge that could be invaluable to young people who are having difficulty with remote learning.
So, Ingleside at Rock Creek decided to tap into that expertise to create a virtual tutoring program — an innovative idea that would ultimately benefit residents, employees, and their children. Several residents stepped up immediately, sharing with the CCRC’s administration the subjects and grade levels with which they were prepared to help.
It is truly a win-win-win solution.
Ingleside residents who have faced months of monotonous “lockdown” have found a new purpose while engaging with the employees’ children. Residents value not only their ability to help students navigate this unusual learning environment, they also see it as a way to give back to the CCRC’s employees who work so hard to keep them safe and well-cared for.
The employees, on the other hand, get the help they need to lift some of the stress of remote learning from their already tired shoulders. And the employees’ children receive the one-on-one tutoring assistance and mentorship they need to succeed in this sometimes-challenging virtual learning environment.
Making lemonade out of lemons
I’ve written before about the numerous benefits of volunteerism for seniors, improving both mental and physical health. More specifically, intergenerational programs, like the Ingleside at Rock Creek remote tutoring program, give CCRC residents a reinvigorated purpose in life and provide children with the love, attention, and wisdom of a “surrogate grandparent.”
While volunteerism has always been an important activity at CCRCs like Ingleside at Rock Creek, the pandemic has forced senior living communities and their residents to reimagine ways to get involved in the world around them — virtually.
The Ingleside at Rock Creek remote tutoring program is still ramping up with plans to expand in 2021. But the success of the program is already apparent with residents forming close bonds with the children they are tutoring and the children’s academic performance improving.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created much suffering, yes. But ironically, it also has created new opportunities to find joy in life. The innovative Ingleside at Rock Creek tutoring program is bringing light into the lives of residents, employees, and their children. I hope other senior living communities find inspiration in this story, just as I have.