MISSION, Kan. – Teacher Tabatha Rosproy's preschool class met inside a nursing and retirement home in rural Kansas, forming a bond with residents that continued even when social distancing requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic forced her classroom to close down.
After a year of unprecedented disruptions, Rosproy was chosen as the 2020 National Teacher of the Year for bridging the worlds of her community's oldest and youngest. Her selection was announced Thursday by the Council of Chief State School Officers, with the selection committee praising her in a statement for embodying “hope and inspiration.”
The Winfield school district in which Rosproy teaches established the early childhood program two years ago inside Cumbernauld Village, a retirement community and nursing home that sits on 44 acres in south-central Kansas.
One year into the partnership, the program boasted the highest preschool literacy and math scores in the district. But more than that, Rosproy said, her students were “well connected and well loved” and the residents engaged as they snuggled with children while reading stories to them.
“Many of them don't live near their own grandchildren or don't have grandchildren,” Rosproy said. “They felt so fortunate to be near the joy and livelihood of children.”
Intergenerational programs have existed in various forms for over a century, with more than 100 in existence, said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, which advocates for them.
Soon after the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, schools across Kansas were closed. With Rosproy no longer allowed inside her classroom, she wrote messages on the windows of the nursing home. Parents also took pictures of the youngsters holding signs of encouragement, and Rosproy printed them off and gave them to the staff to hang inside.