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Service and Learning Experience, GCSE Coursework Example

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GCSE Coursework

Agency: Westminster Thurber Community

Westminster-Thurber is a very large, assisted living facility, and virtually a community in itself.  Spanning acres, the site offers rehabilitative services of many types, along with levels of care dictated by resident need.   Apartments of various sizes are available for residents who are largely independent, while the assisted living residences provide all the services of nursing home attendance.  Then, Westminster-Thurber also offers long-term, rehabilitative treatment, as well as home care services for individuals requiring temporary support.   Being a community, there is also a wide range of activities to promote resident and volunteer interactions, and help the elderly residents live as active a lifestyle as is healthy and enjoyable for them (Westminster-Thurber.org).

In my time volunteering in the community, I took part in several activities geared for the senior residents.   One I found particularly rewarding – and challenging – was the computer instruction class.  The seniors would gather in the computer center and attend presentations on the basics of navigating through the Internet, and I would assist individuals.  While not an expert, I was nonetheless able to guide the seniors in finding websites, and coaching them in how to conduct searches, chats, shopping, email, and other online activities.  Most were hesitant about even attempting to go online initially, but I found that consideration for their anxieties greatly increased their comfort levels, and consequently their abilities.

I also engaged in fitness training with the seniors.  The routines were tailored for them by professional trainers and were mild, and mostly involved walking and light stretching.  These classes were as social as they were physical, in that the residents responded more positively when they were encouraged in conversation.  I myself enjoyed work-outs as I kept pace with the seniors on the walking tracks, or even arranged walks outside of the fitness center.  As with the computer learning, the social component greatly enhanced the efforts the residents were willing to make, and created an enjoyable experience out of something they were not eager to do.

With specific regard to the computer instruction, I found many aspects of it relevant to, or reflective of, the coursework.  The class itself, I felt, presented interesting ways in which to gain a better understanding of actual development in seniors.  The demands of any new environment create the potentials for both positive and negative development of the personality, and at any age (Engler  153).  Equally importantly, I felt that the challenges of learning the new technology would better reveal what I consider to be far more important that chronological age: Psychological Age and Social Age

More exactly, as all of these seniors were essential beginning at the same plateau with this learning, the individual characters of those ages became all the more evident.  For example, one senior woman who suffered from Diabetes had a very interesting viewpoint; as she felt restricted in the more physical activities the others enjoyed, she was all the more determined to master this sedentary one.  In my estimation, this reflected her psychological age as “younger,” or more competitive.  Similarly, several other residents remained highly reluctant to learn, or even fearful of it, and I believe this reflected more ideas of social age than any limitations in intelligence or capability.  More exactly, they saw themselves as elderly, and consequently did not believe they could properly learn a new technology.  On a happier note, others were just as adamant in refuting negative aspects of their social age.  Two residents in particular made it clear to me that being able to email their children and grandchildren was of great importance to them, and as asserting how vital they still were.

I also discovered that seniors, as with all other people, do not have absolutely fixed ideas or traits; there always seems to be some degree of Plasticity, depending upon how each individual is approached.  I found, for example, that the most progress in becoming comfortable on the computer occurred with more than a few seniors when I willingly joined in with them in making fun of the technology, or joking about how dependent upon it the rest of the world is.  This seems to have freed them from anxiety, and encouraged an openness to it.  Then, I also found that plasticity was greater when certain parameters were in place.  In other words, it was helpful to reinforce to all of the seniors that writing and sending an email was completely within their control and choice.  I found that, by emphasizing the technology to be nothing more than a tool, they were then more willing to engage with the learning.

My experiences volunteering at Westminster-Thurber were not free of some frustrations, yet that alone reinforces to me the value of service learning.  Put another way, I now feel that no other learning can be so expansive, or complete, because it is a living, active process.  Theory is excellent, but theory attached to humanity as it lives is far more important.  This is, I also believe, especially crucial in regard to senior citizens.   As I reflect on Erickson’s final stage of development, wherein old age deals with Ego-Integrity or Despair, I am all the more impressed with the work done at Westminster-Thurber.  More exactly, this stage of Erickson’s seems to me to represent an unnecessary finality.  The older adult looks back and evaluates their life, seeing it as having been valuable or as unsatisfactory (Shaffer, Kipp  45).  This contains an implicit sense that the life itself is essentially completed; consequently, I would be very surprised to find that despair is not a common result of this “stage.”  Too many of us view being elderly as an end, and this must encourage the feeling in seniors that their lives are finished, in terms of developing.  What I discovered is that individuals often defy theory, provided they are treated as such. I also feel that I learned a practical lesson in regard to Bidirectional Interchange, or the relationship between the environment and heredity.  Essentially, I personally witnessed many changes in “direction” long established by heredity or habit because the environment of the facility was such an active, encouraging force.  This is something I wish to pursue in other service learning venues, because I believe there is a great deal to be learned about human behavior as an evolving force when certain environments provide a consistently positive influence.

On a more personal level, I came away with a sense of my own preconceptions regarding seniors.  I was not even aware of these attitudes until I was immersed in the experience, and until after I was able to reflect on it.  What it comes down is that I was working with men and women, not seniors, and the definition, I feel, greatly impairs how we all perceive aging.  In retrospect, and perhaps subconsciously, I think I may have wanted to challenge my own viewpoints here, or even confirm the impressions of seniors I had.  It is difficult for me to even identify my own stage of development through all of this, because I am keenly aware of development itself.  I believe I am within the Intimacy versus Isolation range in development as well as in age, yet the range is a wide one, and I find I often hold onto anchors of established perceptions in my general behavior.  Consequently, I think I entered into the service to confront my own development itself, or at least better understand roadblocks to it.  Had I attempted this five years ago, I suspect that my biases would have remained in place, certainly to the extent of impeding my work sat Westminster-Thurber.  I believe that even five further years of life experience can go a long way in lessening preconceptions, and I think I needed those years if I were to perform my volunteer work most honestly and effectively.
Beyond these elements, however, I feel I can assert that nothing has more altered my views regarding potentials in development than has my time at the facility.  In setting aside biases, I exponentially came to appreciate just how active development is, and that this was development in the elderly affirms my feelings all the more.  Even if no learning is achieved, there is still the investment of self and effort these seniors make, and that is a process that defines development, or should define development.  It is ironic and interesting to me that, as I had an eye out for how environment, and my own role in influencing that environment, created for me an environment that would shape my own thoughts and being.  Just as importantly, I fully perceive that all development is a living process, and one that I may direct for myself as much as I am influenced by all that is around me.  Westminster-Thurber gave me some challenges, but it also gave me a lens through which to better comprehend the complexity and possibilities of life, and at any age.

Works Cited

Engler, B.  Personality Theories: An Introduction.  Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2008.  Print.

Santrock, J. W.   Essentials of Life-Span Development.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.  Print.

Shaffer, D. R., & Kipp, K. Developmental Psychology: Childhood and Adolescence. Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2009. Print.

Westminster-Thurber Community.  2012, Web. Retrieved from http://westminsterthurber.org/

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