The Goessel school board listened to a report during its Dec. 12 meeting from fifth-grade teacher Ilona Abrahams about the Generation Bridge program that she started 17 years ago.
The program was begun as a way to connect Goessel Elementary School students with residents of Bethesda Home, which is a complex of independent-living duplexes and a nursing-care facility.
Bethesda Home and the school are “next-door neighbors,” with only a narrow street dividing the properties.
Abrahams told the board about her goals for Generation Bridge:
• Provide a rich learning environment for both young and old.
• Engage them socially with each other.
• Give fifth-graders the opportunity to develop the skill of communicating with people other than just their peers.
Abrahams said her students go to Bethesda Home one day a week to interact with residents for 40 minutes. Residents of Bethesda Home’s duplexes are invited to participate, as well as assisted living and nursing care residents in the main building. Each student is paired with one resident, and they meet with that resident every week for the entire school year.
Abrahams said students have had Olympics activities with the residents, they have done science projects together, they have made peppernuts together, and many other activities.
Abrahams said the students packaged the peppernuts and delivered some to every resident. She said the students learned about community service.
Abrahams coordinates activities with a Tabor College teacher, who brings her students to Abrahams’ class one day a week for six weeks. The college students go with the fifth-graders to Bethesda Home and help write histories for the residents.
Gayle Voth, activities director at Bethesda Home for the past seven years, said Generation Bridge program provides many benefits for Bethesda Home residents.
Voth said it gives them a sense of purpose, and she commended the fifth-graders for accepting their resident partners “unconditionally.”
Voth quoted a resident who said, “I feel very fortunate to be able to connect with the school in this way.”
Likewise, Abrahams said students feel fortunate, too. One student told her that her resident says, “Thank you” and “I love you.” The student told Abrahams, “What can be better than that?”
In addition to Voth’s role in helping to pair residents with students during the school year, Voth also initiated a summer volunteer program for 10-year-old to 14-year-old youth. This past summer was the second summer for that program.
Board member James Wiens said more youth applied than Bethesda Home could use.
“That’s just awesome… this is really great,” he said.
Voth responded, “It says a lot about the parents, too,” who encourage their children to volunteer.
The board expressed affirmation for the work of both Abrahams and Voth.
Kansas State Representative Don Schroeder was on hand to talk about the upcoming legislative session during the board meeting
John Fast, USD 411 superintendent and elementary school principal, expressed appreciation to Schroeder for his legislative work.
Schroeder said there is a shortfall between the budget and expected revenue. Fast asked about the sales tax on food.
Schroeder said, “It’s very much a guess. I don’t know what will happen this session,” noting that Kansas has the second-highest grocery sales tax in the nation. He said the food tax rate affects everyone, but it affects poor people more.
“Our state revenues right now” are not very good, he added, and the food tax generates $360 million for the state every year.
Schroeder talked about the big turnover after the recent election; Kansans elected 45 new members of the House, which has 125 members. Schroeder said one-third of those 125 members will be Democrats, one-third moderates and one-third conservatives.
“There will be some coalitions and some compromises,” he said.
Schroeder said the House has 25 different committees, and a legislator can introduce any kind of a bill at any time on any topic. It is very hard to keep track of everything, he said.
He said it is always difficult when it’s time to vote: “We don’t always have clear choices.” He said sometimes he has to decide what is bad and what is worse.
Schroeder mentioned the amount of power that is given to the speaker of the House.
“The speaker has a lot of control,” he said, noting that the governor has the most control, then the lieutenant governor, then the speaker.
Fast and Wiens asked about a plan for funding education.
Schroeder responded, “There are a few things we could do for this year.” However, he said he is very disappointed with the state’s education committee.
“Next year is going to be problematic,” he said.
Fast noted the fear of consolidation for smaller schools. Schroeder said he is concerned about eliminating low-enrollment weighting.
“That is something that will affect us,” Fast said.
In other business, the board:
• approved an anonymous donation of $2,000 for sports equipment. The board expressed appreciation for the contribution.
• heard Scott Boden, junior high and high school principal, report that the high school student council had organized a community service day in November.
Students volunteered at the Mennonite Central Committee center in North Newton, raked leaves in the Goessel community, played games with elementary school students, participated in activities with residents of Bethesda Home, made cookies for community members, worked in the school garden, and cleaned up at the school and in the community.
• approved Kansas Association of School Boards policy changes, which address issues such as food service donations, collecting fees from families who receive reduced price lunches, transportation, inoculations, and medications for students with asthma and allergies.
• approved the Skyward accounting system, which will also be used by other schools in the county.
• voted to continue with Knudson Monroe as the school’s auditor.