A service learning project in which Ithaca College aging studies students stage a play with local senior citizens earned the 2016 Service Project Award from the national gerontology honor society, Sigma Phi Omega.
“Age on Stage” brings together students and residents of the Titus Towers senior housing community to rehearse and perform a play. Associate Professor of Aging Studies Elizabeth Bergman says that the students involved learn about the lives of older adults while earning course credit.
“My main goal in doing these projects is to expose students to older adults who aren’t relatives and to broaden their range of experience with respect to older people to break down some of those myths and stereotypes that come from the media,” said Bergman.
For example, while aging is often portrayed negatively in the media, students learn that seniors often have social calendars as active as their own.
For many of the students, “Age on Stage” is part of their initial introduction to gerontology. Junior Mary Scouten participated in the project as a freshman while taking Bergman’s introductory Age Matters course, and the experience was instrumental in her decision to declare aging studies as her major.
“Being able to talk to the older adults and engage with them on a different level than learning through a textbook was really impactful and helped me decide that that was what I wanted to do,” said Scouten.
The seed of the “Age on Stage” project was planted in spring 2012, when some of Bergman’s students were going to Titus Towers for regular visits with its residents. One of those residents was Jim Tyler, a retired playwright. Upon learning that two of the students visiting him were interested in musical theatre, Tyler wrote the script and score for “Titus Towers,” a play that would be performed the following fall.
Since then, the project has become a regular part of Bergman’s introductory courses, and Tyler has written three more plays – “Fountain of Youth,” “Invisible Singing Martians” and “Ben and Jeff in Ithaca.” He is currently working on a fourth entitled “Clementine.”
Bergman credits Tyler as the driving force behind “Age on Stage,” and says that the award from Sigma Phi Omega is a recognition of “the contributions that he made to the project and the efforts that he had gone to.”
For more information on aging studies and the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute, visit www.ithaca.edu/gerontology.