Waldorf students and senior residents connect across generation gap

Lake Champlain Waldorf High School 9th grader Lilli Espenshade and Shelburne resident Sally Conrad enjoyed their weekly visits with one another during the Shelburne school’s “Sages & Seekers” program.
Lake Champlain Waldorf High School 9th grader Lilli Espenshade and Shelburne resident Sally Conrad enjoyed their weekly visits with one another during the Shelburne school’s “Sages & Seekers” program.

Lake Champlain Waldorf High School is participating in “Sages & Seekers,” a nation-wide program connecting young people and senior citizens. This is the first time that the Sages & Seekers program has happened in the state of Vermont, and the first time that a Waldorf high school anywhere has participated.

The Seekers are ninth grade students, for whom the program is part of their freshman humanities curriculum. A majority of the Sages are residents of Wake Robin and a few other local residents.

Sages & Seekers is an eight-week program. The first meeting helps seniors and students break the generation barrier with a discussion of popular culture in the Sage’s youth and in the Seeker’s experience. Then participants join in “speed dating” conversations to meet each other and find a match. After the first two initial meetings, each Sage is paired with a particular Seeker and the two have four one-hour-long conversations. Sages are encouraged to bring pictures and other memorabilia to the meetings, and the pair have the chance to share stories, ideas, and beliefs. The meetings take place weekly, either at the Lake Champlain Waldorf High School or Wake Robin.

At the end of the program, each Seeker writes a tribute to his/her Sage, and offers it in a formal presentation as a gift, along with pictures of the two together. Writing and revising this personal tribute constitutes a major assignment for English class in the spring of the ninth grade year.

Students and elders a few weeks into the program, and participants on both ends of the age spectrum appear to be enjoying it tremendously. Some thoughts from the Sages: “I just adore my match! She’s so sweet, and insightful.” “My Seeker is one of your best students, isn’t she?” “My Seeker really listens to me; he’s great!” And from the Seekers: “I was scared we wouldn’t be able to really talk to each other, but she’s been great!” “My Sage says the most amazing, deep things.”

Class sponsor and English teacher Mary Collins commented on the importance of the program, saying “There is so much of mutual value here. The students learn that senior citizens have experiences and wisdom with which they can connect. The senior citizens learn that teenagers can be interested, respectful, and fun!”

Meanwhile, the program’s founder and director, Elly Katz, noted, “I am very excited that Sages & Seekers is launched in Vermont through the Lake Champlain Waldorf School. For everyone’s well being, we need to work on age-segregation and strengthen our communities through connecting generations. I hope that more schools in Vermont will join the movement to bring our teens and elders together.” The program was made possible through a generous grant by a Lake Champlain Waldorf School grandparent.