An Interview with professor Peter Whitehouse on making an intergenerational school a reality

Kate –‘For our readers and members who may not have been able to meet you in person, please tell us a little bit about your background and research?’

Peter –‘I was born in London and raised in Newcastle. I have more Scottish than English ancestry.I left the UK at 10 and later began my career as physician and scientist, focusing on geriatric neurology and brain health. The focus of my work has been caring for and researching problems of older people with dementia. I am interested in public health and prevention and very much concerned about the future. I wonder what the world will look like when the young people become older people.’

Kate –‘How did you start the intergenerational school in Cleveland and when was this?’Peter –‘I started the intergenerational work with my wife Cathy who I married 40 years ago. She is a developmental psychologist and educator and through her work became concerned about children and their learning. A school that’s intergenerational seemed like a powerful model. We started thinking of the idea three years before the first school opened in 2000. We also wrote an article about this idea in 1998.’

Kate –‘What have you learned along the way and did you have any challenges with the intergenerational school?’

Peter –‘The first challenge we had was that people often operate in silos, so it was hard to create that intergenerational space due to bureaucracy. In education we often look at things for children or for adults, not together. Funding is obviously a challenge. However, in Ohio, our state where we operate the school there was a programme created to foster innovation in education and a chartering process was created, we are a charter school so our school came out of that. What we wanted was to hold a school regularly –not just a connection but a regular space for building relationships, stories and one on one opportunities where friendships would grow. We are not completely unique, other states have charter schools too, but being innovative can be a challenge, event when organisations and people want to be innovative there can still be a culture of the status quo.’

Kate –‘You visited Scotland recently to talk about your experience, what did you learn along the way and any advice that you can give to anyone thinking of starting a project here?’

Peter –‘What I noticed, after visiting England and America was that in Scotland there us appetite for this, Scotland seems primed to take intergenerational idea forward –more than anywhere else. During my talks I spoke to academics, councillors and government officials, all who wanted to be involved. To transform education you need educators, academics, politicians, so this was great. In the Perth intergenerational project –Connecting Generations I heard powerful stories of intergenerational connections. In Jedburgh I heard about the new intergenerational campus which was a great physical manifestation of what I was talking about and I am already planning to go back to Melrose in autumn. I think that the intergenerational work is a great way to achieve the four capacities of curriculum for excellence too.’

Kate –‘How can people learn more about your work or get in touch with you?’

Peter – ‘To read more about my work and research you can follow the university link. To learn more about the intergenerational schools in America, there is a separate website. To talk about my events in Scotland or to learn more about Generations Working Together please get in touch with their office.

19th July 2019