Educators throughout the country, even in trendy California, are looking at the early success of the Positively Aging® middle school education program created at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC).
Linda Pruski, M.S., educational development specialist with the Aging Research and Education Center at UTHSC, testified before a California Senate subcommittee about the effectiveness of the program. The Positively Aging® project has produced an innovative set of interdisciplinary teaching materials that uses examples from geriatrics and gerontology to teach sixth- through eighth-grade curricular elements. The materials are available at positivelyaging.uthscsa.edu.
Golden State senators are studying SB 953, the "California Integrated Elder Care and Involvement Act of 2002." Some provisions of this bill would enact gerontologic curricular requirements for grades six to 12.
Use of the Positively Aging® curricular materials resulted in improved perceptions of the elderly in a study conducted at two San Antonio middle schools. At the start of the study, students in both schools were asked to draw a typical older person. These drawings were coded as positive, neutral or negative portrayals of elders. One school then used the Positively Aging® materials as part of the curriculum; the other school served as the control. The students were asked to draw elders again at the end of the school year.
The students in the school using the Positively Aging® materials demonstrated a 10 percent shift toward more positive images of elders — this shift was not seen in the control school. "The study demonstrated that the Positively Aging® materials change attitudes in middle school children," Pruski said. "Our materials improved students' images of older people and increased awareness of their needs."
The Positively Aging® materials are designed to dispel myths about aging, introduce ways to minimize chronic disease and illness, and promote productivity through civic service and volunteerism in one's older years. Students are encouraged to think about careers as geriatricians (who are board-certified physicians) or gerontologists.
"California is considering adoption of a required higher education gerontology standard for everyone involved in a 'helping' profession, including social workers, teachers, allied health professionals, nurses, physicians and more," Pruski said. "These professionals would be required to take at least one semester of gerontology or geriatrics to graduate from their degree programs."
Pruski testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Aging and Long-Term Care, meeting in joint session with the Senate Subcommittee on Education. Other panelists in the State Capitol in Sacramento were from the California Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Other speakers agreed that the Positively Aging® materials were leading the field. "One speaker said the program clearly showed us how we can infuse examples from aging into existing curriculum," Pruski said.
The Positively Aging® summer program for teachers also drew praise. "Our training program, called Stealth Gerontology®, improved the age-related knowledge in participating teachers," Pruski said. In pre- and post-testing, 100 elementary and middle school teachers showed a 5 percent to 26 percent improvement in knowledge about age-related issues, depending on the area tested. "We're preparing for our 2002 summer training, which runs between June 10 and July 19. Teachers are invited to apply now by calling (210) 567-4398," Pruski said.