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FMPSD Students Learn Empathy For The Aging

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It’s the smiles you notice first. The seniors, the students, and the teachers - everyone is smiling. Walter and Gladys Hill Public School’s learning commons is full of visitors from the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre’s Continuing Care unit interacting with their young hosts. Empathy and the Aging program is in full swing.

Launched almost six years ago by Alberta Health Services, Fort McMurray Public School District, and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Empathy and the Aging is in its third year at Walter and Gladys Hill Public. Throughout the school year, Elders and seniors are brought in by Alberta Health Services to spend an afternoon with students.

“Thanks to Donna Davidson (former teacher there) and her initiative, we were able to secure a partnership with  Alberta Health Services, Conoco Phillips, and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to run this program,” explains Annalee Nutter, Principal, Walter and Gladys Hill Public School.

“Our grades 1/2 and 2/3 classes have been engaged, playing games, reading, story telling and doing art activities with the Elders. It’s a great opportunity for our students to interact with them, because many of our students have grandparents who live elsewhere. They love listening to them talk, tell stories and share information about themselves. It really builds a sense of appreciation, respect, awareness and empathy between the generations,” she adds.

Teresa Horsley and Sara Arsenault, teachers at the schools oversee the program.

“Our first meeting included two seniors and 30 students. Students enjoyed listening to one of our guests talk about his love of moose meat.  We had a Valentine’s Day theme and students and seniors worked together to create their own versions of the “Roses are Red” poems. Several students created cards for one of the seniors who wished to be referred to as “mosom” or “grandfather” in Cree. He seemed very touched by their thoughtful gesture and promised to keep the cards in his room,” explains Horsley.

Cindy Amerongen, Executive Director, Northern Lights Health Foundation applauds the initiative.

“This program is unique as it builds relationships and social awareness and links multi-generations for a healthier outlook. The interaction with children is stimulating for the residents of the Continuing Care unit and when the kids come to the health centre to visit everyone perks up,” notes Amerongen.

“I think the program enables the children to really see older people and to learn from their life stories as they play and talk together. When the residents go to Walter and Gladys Hill School they come back happy and tired and look forward to the next visit. That’s good health and good living and the Health Foundation is happy to support the program,” she says.


Doing What’s Best for Kids at the Fort McMurray Public School District. For more information on any of our 16 schools, visit: For real time updates: follow us on Twitter: @FMPSD @DougNicholls2 and like us on Facebook: Fort McMurray Public School District. We are also on Instagram @FMPSD. 


Photo: Fred from the Continuing Care unit with a Walter and Gladys Hill student. Courtesy of Northern Lights Health Foundation.


Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.