Sandy Scudder enjoyed reminiscing with some high school students about her life, retelling stories about her father paying his way through college by playing piano for silent movies.
The students at Clark Street Community School, a public charter school in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District, visited Scudder where she resides at Heritage Senior Living in Middleton. It was part of a music and memory seminar — a nine-week class, which ended Thursday. It is taught by Heather Messer and Rick Evans.
As part of the seminar, the students interviewed some residents at Heritage, and at Sage Meadow senior living community in Middleton, to learn about their tastes in music so they could put songs on a player for them.
Scudder said she enjoyed having someone to talk to about music’s part in her childhood in Kingston, New York.
“It was really interesting and eye opening,” freshman Zander Duerst said about interviewing Scudder.
Clark Street junior Binta Jammeh said she has family members with dementia so she is glad she can use what she learned in school to help others.
“It’s really cool to see their smiles when they hear the music,” junior Chloe Gallenbeck said.
Sophomore Max Finnemore said that just by creating the playlists of the residents’ favorite music he was able to learn something about them, even if he didn’t interview them.
“I was looking forward to getting my (player),” Heritage resident Cindy Thompson said. “Here was someone actually interested in what we want to hear.”
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Freshman Eli Tedesco, who was knitting a shawl while the students met with the residents, said he learned the resident he interviewed liked to knit so he brought his shawl project to create a connection.
The music and memory seminar is part of an ongoing program with support from the Wisconsin Music & Memory Program, the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute and UW-Madison. Students learn about the work of the Wisconsin Music & Memory Program, which brings personalized music to people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Students also look at the brain, biochemistry and the impacts of dementia on individuals, families and communities, along with careers related to what they are learning.
The students visited UW Hospital to attend a brain-cutting in the morgue, where Dr. M. Shahriar Salamat, a pathologist, teaches his medical students how to diagnose cause of death using the brains of recently deceased patients.
Kristen Kehl-Floberg, associate outreach specialist and occupational therapy consultant for the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute, said she spoke to the students about aging from her perspective, which includes being a licensed occupational therapist with a specialization in gerontology. She also was a resource for finding other people to speak to the students.
Jennifer Krause, director of community relations at Heritage who worked with the school, has seen the impact of the intergenerational project.
“Every time I see (one resident) she is wearing her headset,” Krause said. “She might not be able to tell you where she got it, but the music has been incredibly powerful for her.”
As part of Krause’s involvement, she volunteered to help Joy Schmidt of the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Dane County give the students a Virtual Dementia Tour, which helps people understand what it’s like to have dementia.
Krause, who was impressed by the interest level of the students, said she is now working with social studies and art teachers at Clark Street to develop a program that might include oral history and drawing.
In a similar vein, the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center hope to take what they have learned from working with Clark Street Community School to offer more community outreach programs statewide.
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that Clark Street Community School is a public charter school.]