Being a part of the Sweet Readers programme so far has been so immensely rewarding, uplifting and has brought a very different dimension to my working week. As soon as the opportunity was presented to me – to help become a driving force behind this first international movement for the Sweet Readers – I knew that it was worth investing the time and effort to make it happen. And indeed it was.
We are all affected in some way by old age; whether it is contact with grandparents, neighbours or indeed simply the realisation that we are aging ourselves every day. To enable our young peoples’ eyes to be opened to Alzheimer’s disease and to connect with their elderly partners each week has been astonishing and I am not ashamed to admit that every week I am overcome with emotion watching as the relationships develop. Indeed, on week one of the programme, I was unsure about whether we could do this – a whole host of problems occurred that were difficult to manage and, as secondary teachers, we were very much ‘out of our comfort zone’. Yet I shouldn’t have been worried. As I looked over at one of our young Sweet Readers, Alfie, aged 11, and witnessed him simply put his hand over his elderly partner’s saying ‘it’s ok, I’m so looking forward to getting to know you’ and seeing the calming effect on Anita, aged 85, I thought ‘Wow – I can learn so much from our youngsters’…and this is indeed powerful learning that goes so far beyond a classroom.
So at Alleyn’s School, London, after a successful week long pilot project which involved us taking six of our youngest pupils out over a series of four days, we decided to invest fully in the project and have now re-designed our timetable to allow an entire class of pupils to participate in Sweet Readers in our first year. We take out 12 pupils at a time, with the remaining 12 staying in school and receiving more personalised teaching in their subjects at school. After six weeks of the project, the children then rotate, to allow every single member of the group to get involved. This inclusivity is also so very important – the young people are not hand-picked and even the shyest, most reluctant pupils have demonstrated an amazing journey and new found confidence through the project. Every week, as we return to school in our mini-bus, our Sweet Readers are literally ‘buzzing’ and wanting to share what they have learned about their elderly partner with our team. Indeed, they look forward to it every Monday and for many it is now the highlight of their week. And to see the elderly people’s faces light up with recognition when their young partner arrives at the care home is simply inspiring.
So I am incredibly proud to be a part of this amazing initiative and the first British school to take on this work. Not only do I firmly believe that this is an example of life-long learning and these skills will be so very important to our young people throughout their lives, it has also really helped open my own eyes as an adult to identity, to discovering the person behind the disease and has brought a richness to my own working week. I now can’t imagine my job without it. Thank you, Sweet Readers!