Montreal elementary students teach, bond with seniors over tech lessons

Every week, 12-year-old students at a Saint-Léonard elementary school get to switch roles and become teachers.

Inter-âge gives seniors a chance to learn about digital world once a week at École Wilfrid-Bastien

The school program has been in place for the past 10 years. (Marie-France Bélanger/Radio-Canada)

Every week, 12-year-old students at a Saint-Léonard elementary school get to switch roles and become teachers.

The Grade 6 students at École Wilfrid-Bastien pair up with senior citizens from local retirement homes to teach them about technology and social media as part of a program dubbed Inter-âge.

The program has allowed seniors to decipher the workings of Facebook, YouTube and FaceTime, even if some were a little skeptical at first about their young teachers.

"When I came here I wanted to learn how to use social media, I wanted to learn how to use YouTube," said Francine Goudreault, who recently retired.

"At the beginning, I found it a little odd [having] Grade 6 students as our teachers," she said. "But now I love it."

The lessons are personalized, and vary based on need and skill level. Inter-âge is not a mandatory part of the curriculum at Wilfrid-Bastien, but creator and teacher Pierre Poulin said the majority of his class participates.

Luciana Diaz has been teaching Gilles Lebrun how to use a tablet. (Marie-France Bélanger/Radio-Canada)

During the fall session, student Luciana Diaz slowly taught participant Gilles Lebrun how to use a tablet, while a classmate showed an 81-year-old woman how to contact her loved ones in Italy through FaceTime.

"I love working with seniors," said Diaz.

Nicole Pedneault, who helps run the program from the Centre des aînés du réseau d'entraide de Saint-Léonard, a resource centre, says seniors aren't as shy when they are taught by children.

Initially, some participants in the program couldn't even turn on a computer, Pedneault added. The courses have helped them become more proficient in the digital world.

Learning on both sides

Inter-âge makes it possible for young students to share their knowledge and passion for technology while also learning from their older pupils.

"It helps me understand the elderly," said one of the students in the project. "I thought they were stricter and meaner."

The project has also helped build close relationships, like the one between Fernande Forest and Grade 6 student Daniel Ardiles.

"I love this little boy," said Forest. "We talk about his family, we talk about my family. We talk about our personal lives."

Poulin told Radio-Canada that Inter-âge also gives students a chance to flourish outside of regular classwork.

He hopes to change the structure eventually so that seniors will produce and present their own videos to show to the class.

With files from Radio-Canada's Marie-France Bélanger