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Elders and youngsters join forces to learn

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Retired soldier and RSL subcommittee member Paul Zaat, with students from St Aloysius’ Cronulla. Photo: George Al-Akiki
Retired soldier and RSL subcommittee member Paul Zaat, with students from St Aloysius’ Cronulla. Photo: George Al-Akiki

Students at St Aloysius Catholic Primary School in Cronulla are learning to put their faith into action across generations, with Cronulla RSL.

In return, the returned servicemen are sharing their life experiences with the young children.

Year 2 students met with their new “grandfriends” and the Cronulla Rotary Club for the first time in the school library on 15 February, as part of the new weekly Intergenerational Learning program.

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They shared jokes, favourite books, a dance and happy conversations as part of a program which aims to promote social experiences for young people, and provide a remedy to loneliness and depression often found in elderly people.

Retired army veteran and RSL subcommittee member since 1970, Paul Zaat, who attended St Aloysius back in 1955, was delighted to give back to his community.

“This is something a bit different that gives back directly to the kids,” Paul said.

The 74-year-old says the reciprocal form of learning is a great way to help with the mental health of older people while teaching a whole new generation.

“What brings me true joy in my life is trying to make other people’s lives better,” he said.

“People don’t have enough time for each other—the world is busy running at 100 miles an hour.

“There’s a lack of time left to socialise, and I think that’s why people don’t spend enough time caring about others.

“Programs like this helps other veterans, but at the same time it’s helping me.”

St Aloysius joins almost 30 schools who have adopted the learning program, which looks to integrate the school curriculum and religious education into the two-way learning sessions.

“It has to be a reciprocal learning exchange,” said Greg Cronan, who founded Intergenerational Learning in 2019.

“Our goal is to plant a seed in these students to read, write and engage more and be inspired by these older people, while bringing to the older people a great joy from these interactions.

“It’s an internal evangelisation that is building community and implicit to that is the student’s exercising their faith by having this form of ministry.”

Family Educator for St Aloysius school and parish Wendy Macken said the program provides students with a love of neighbour and by extension, a love for Jesus.

“It’s certainly a reciprocal form of almsgiving,” Wendy said.

“Starting this program in the first week of Lent means students and elderly are able to go on a really lovely Lenten journey together and live out this key principle in our current church season.”

School principal Sheree Rose received positive feedback on the first session from parents and said in a statement afterwards that students thoroughly enjoyed their experience.

“The program, a part of our 2024 focus on social-emotional learning and student wellbeing, aligns with our commitment to Catholic social teaching—promoting compassion, respect and dignity for all,” Sheree said.

“Through initiatives like this, we aim to nurture faith by sharing Christ’s love in the world.

“We are excited to witness the positive impact of these intergenerational connections.”

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