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Mrs. Gertzinger goes back to school

Wilda Gertzinger, 84, gets her wish to spend the day with
by: submitted photo Wilda Gertzinger presents one of two hand-made quilts to the students at Hallinan Elementary.  She and her fellow senior citizens at Marquis Wilsonville, a senior living facility, made the quilts from art pieces created by the Hallinan students during their visits with the seniors.
SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Mrs. Wilda Gertzinger, 84, 'got her wish last week and was added as an honorary member to the teaching staff at Hallinan Elementary.

Was she a last-minute gift from the Lake Oswego School Foundation? A substitute teacher for the rest of the school year?

No, Miss Wilda, as the students call her, was at Hallinan just for the day last Thursday. The retired schoolteacher from Alabama is a resident at Marquis Wilsonville.

For the past two school years, Hallinan Elementary has partnered with Marquis Wilsonville, a senior living center in Wilsonville in an intergenerational program. Teacher Patty Burdick spearheaded the program with support from parent Kathy LeVee, who is vice president of operations for Marquis Companies senior living communities. The program gives both the youngsters and the oldsters an opportunity to build mutual respect.

'Patty had this dream of creating an intergenerational project,' said LeVee. 'The students are gaining an appreciation for the senior population.'

The first year, just a few classes participated in the program; however, this year, the school sent students every month to interact with the seniors. Burdick said the program has had a large impact on the students.

'They are amazed to learn that this man or this woman was a teacher or a politician when they were younger,' she said. 'They are really interested to learn about the trials that they went through.'

'Children light adults up,' said LeVee, adding that the seniors enjoy hearing the students sing, play piano or read when they visit.

Each student at Hallinan has a 'buddy' in the school; younger students who are paired with older ones. The buddies were grouped with a senior when they visited Marquis Wilsonville.

The groups worked on art projects together, enjoyed musical performances and the students learned the seniors' histories during their visits.

'It was fun to meet the older adults,' said second-grader Cody Hart. 'I liked hearing about their discoveries in their younger life.'

First-grader Max Swygard said visiting Marquis Wilsonville was 'really good and lots of fun.' A cookie making session was his favorite activity.

Burdick commented that she sees some students demonstrating 'unexpectedly kind behavior' toward the seniors, especially from boys and quieter children.

'This is such good social training,' said Burdick. 'A lot of (the students) don't have grandmas and grandpas around. It's good for them to visit together.

'Everybody wants to make somebody happy,' she said.

The school children's visits reminded Miss Wilda of her lifetime spent teaching students. Staff at Marquis Wilsonville learned that she wished to return to the classroom for a day to be with the children. It seemed a perfect fit for her to visit her friends at Hallinan.

Miss Wilda spent her day visiting different classrooms, taking in art classes, music classes and touring the school garden. She ate lunch with the first and second graders in Mrs. Coombes' class and then relaxed with the teachers over lunch in their lounge.

Isabella Tuch, a student in Mrs. Coombes' class, presented Miss Wilda with a crayon drawing of her visit to Hallinan.

'This is just wonderful!' she said to Tuch. 'This is going on my bulletin board. They (her friends at her home) know I'm coming (to Hallinan) today and they'll be looking for what I'll put up!'

Cody Hart read to her his story about discovering shipwrecks. She asked for a copy of his story to also put on her bulletin board at her home.

As the bell rang for recess, children lined up to introduce themselves to Miss Wilda.

'I'm having a wonderful day!' she beamed as she proceeded to the next classroom.

'We found out that Wilda is an author,' said Burdick. 'She wrote two mystery murders … 'Site for Murder,' and 'The Painted Horse Murders,' and she did four archeological digs, one being in Egypt!'

To end her dream-come-true-teacher-for-a-day experience, Miss Wilda was joined by other residents and staff of Marquis Wilsonville for a cultural assembly with the students. As the students filed past the seniors to their places in the audience they made a point of stopping to introduce themselves to Miss Wilda and shake hands.

The seniors surprised the students with two handmade quilts made from the art pieces created during the students' visits to the Marquis Wilsonville. Burdick reported the quilts were hung in the school library for all to admire.

Luckily, the funds needed to keep the intergenerational program going are minimal. It will be continued next year, which pleases both the Hallinan and Marquis Wilsonville communities.

'This is a big passion of mine and it has really evolved,' said Burdick. 'It is a win-win for everyone!'