School-community program: Ask Gran Not Google

Lindisfarne Anglican Grammar School is encouraging students to think beyond their digital devices and seek answers from elderly citizens in the community instead.

It's all part of the Ask Gran Not Google program, an initiative led by aged care provider Feros Care. The New South Wales school has been involved in the pilot program since 2016, when Year 2 students connected with seniors who lived in the Feros Care Residential Village at Wommin Bay via video link.

The school's Learning Enrichment Coordinator for Year 9-12, Kim Denny says the students fired lots of questions to the seniors, who absolutely loved the opportunity to interact with the young children. ‘All around it was a great opportunity for students who didn't have grandparents and grandparents that didn't have family, to just connect and have conversations.'

The following year, in 2017, school staff decided that they really wanted to keep the program running, so had the now-Year 3 cohort involved in the program again. This time, they had a morning tea and connected back to seniors in the aged care facility via a telepresence robot. There were roughly 65 students involved on this occasion.

‘The students just created really tricky questions about history, and they were doing a comparative study of what school was like when you were younger and they would ask the seniors some funny questions and there were some really hilarious ones,' Denny reflects.

‘The kids would say, “So what was the naughtiest thing you've ever done?” And one of the 90-year-olds said “When I ran away from school” and the kids just thought “Oh my!”'

When Denny changed positions and moved across to the senior school, she decided she also wanted to get the Year 9s involved in the program. In 2018, they took it a step further again, inviting the seniors from the village to visit the school in person.

‘So again, we had a big morning tea and they have a little initiative that they do in the home and it's called a Silent Disco. Students and the seniors put on earphones which are connected to music and they dance and they absolutely love it. We brought the seniors from Feros Care to our school and we brought our grandparents of those students into school and we had a silent disco all together.'

The students also performed jazz music for the visitors and served scones and jam. Some of the citizens enjoyed it so much, they asked Denny if they could arrange to see the students again. ‘So I've actually booked in with them and were going again to do another concert and I'm going to take those same boys because the elderly gentleman wanted to show the boys how to fish.'

Denny says the whole motivation behind being involved in the initiative is to offer students the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with elderly people, and also affirm the importance of seniors in the community.

‘They get to have real conversations with seniors who have a rich life experience and they can talk about the history and they're getting to share their wisdom and their experience which going on Google, using the internet, reading a few books, doesn't always give them,' she says.

‘… It's teaching the children positive attitudes towards the ageing and building bonds between generations that sometimes can be lost through lack of conversation. So it just allows for all of those conversations to take place and it increases family and community involvement within a heavily digital society that we live in.'

The Ask Gran Not Google program is set to roll out to almost 150 schools across several states after securing a Strong and Resilient Communities Grant from the Federal Government Department of Social Services. Schools in Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria will be the first to be invited to apply to participate.

In what ways does your school strengthen school-community engagement to enrich student learning? How do you build connections with others in the community?

For more on how your local school can participate in the program, visit the website.