Learning from their elders: Garfield 4th graders spend school day at Good Samaritan

Garfield fourth-grader Baylee Caponi reads with Woodland resident Joyce M. Johnson Friday, Feb. 14, at Good Samaritan-Woodland in Brainerd. Garfield students visited Woodland for a non-traditional school day, continuing the partnership between the two. Steve Kohls/ Brainerd Dispatch

While many elementary school students spent Friday, Feb. 14, handing out cards to classmates and eating sweet treats, fourth-graders at Garfield Elementary School celebrated Valentine’s Day a little differently.

Instead of sweets, they were treated to a unique day of learning at Good Samaritan Society - Woodland, where they attended classes taught by residents of the senior living community.

For married couple Trent and Jenn Grams, a Garfield fourth-grade teacher and Woodland administrator, respectively, the activity meant being able to work together on Valentine’s Day despite their different careers.

The couple, together with Woodland Activities Director Krista Frerichs, dreamed up the event after having participated in an adopt-a-grandparent program of sorts with Garfield Elementary last year. Woodland residents have come to Garfield about once a month since the end of the last school year to help out in classes and do activities with the students.


But this time, they wanted to bring the students to Woodland.

“Ever since we were married, we’ve talked about wanting to have this kind of intergenerational activity for our residents and his students,” Jenn Grams said. “So we were finally able to make that happen where we could bring students and both of our professions together.”

With so many retired teachers being residents at Woodland, Frerichs said she thought it would be fun to let them teach some classes, just like the good ‘ole days.

The day started out with a short ceremony featuring members of the Brainerd Veterans of Foreign Wars, who led the students in the Pledge of Allegiance. Afterward, resident and retired veteran Harry Meyers broke down the pledge for students, explaining what each portion means.

Then students broke up into smaller groups, rotating around Woodland for the morning as they played math bingo, read to residents, learned about heart health from retired nurses and got lessons in history.

“These kids don't get to do these types of activities all the time,” Trent Grams said. “So when you get an opportunity to meet with somebody new and see how much they love it and build that strong bond with them, you know, that's what they're going to take away from them.”

After eating lunch and even having recess outside at Woodland, retired Garfield music teacher Carolyn Norquist put her teaching hat back on after 20 years with a jazzy music lesson for the students.

“Today we’re going to have the old folks back in the swing of things with jazz — patriotic and jazz songs,” Norquist said Friday morning as she planned out the day’s lesson.


To give the students a multicultural music class, Norquist planned to use the song “It’s a Small World” to teach about past generations who immigrated to the U.S., and to sing a couple with Norwegian words as well.

Norquist, 86, said she was a little nervous for the class, as the last time she tried to sing a solo three years ago, she ended up with a frog in her throat upon hitting the stage.

“So when they asked me to do this, I said, ‘Well, when I teach them a song, when I open my mouth to sing I don't know if anything (will come out),’” she joked. “So we'll see what happens today.”

The students also got a lesson in working with the older people from residents, who discussed things like dementia, hearing loss and the use of wheelchairs and walkers.

Jenn Grams said there’s so much to be learned from her residents.
“They just have rich histories,” she said, “and they’re wise people that have a lot of fun stories to share.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Woodland resident Dick Carder listens as Garfield fourth-grader Peyton Francis reads a storybook Friday, Feb. 14, at Good Samaritan-Woodland. The partnership between Woodland and Garfield strengthens relationships between the two generations. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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