Unity: The Art AND Science of the Bridges Program

For 25 years, we’ve heard anecdotes about how the Bridges program has alleviated fears of aging, encouraged youth to develop more positive views of aging and even reunited families! We attribute its success to the fact that at Bridges Together we pay equal attention to the art and science of effective intergenerational programming.

What Bridges Together learned recently, however, is that the Bridges Program Curricula Suite also ticks all the boxes in a specific social science theory about how different groups can overcome prejudice. (And that is essentially what the Bridges program is all about!)

In February, Andrea led an Ins & Outs of Planning Your Intergenerational Program at Boston University at the invitation of Ernest Gonzales, PhD, who has been working with Bridges Together to analyze data from the Bridges Program Curricula Suite. Andrea had a “eureka” moment when she heard Ernest share about Dr. Gordon W. Allport’s Contact Hypothesis. Allport, a psychologist, theorized that interpersonal contact is the best way to overcome prejudice and Andrea saw how the Bridges program methods align with Allport’s criteria for encounters designed to combat stereotypes:

Allport: Equal status, meaning both groups should engage equally. Bridges: Our curricula are designed to be mutually beneficial. Both older adults and youth answer the questions, share their life stories and participate in the program’s activities. This is not one group directly helping another, like tutoring or a service program; there are clear benefits for all involved!

Allport: Common goal, meaning both groups work on the same problem or task. Bridges: There aren’t separate activities or discussion questions for seniors and youth – everyone is working from the same page, so to speak!

Allport: Intergroup cooperation, meaning both groups are working without competition. Bridges: The Bridges program is all about cooperative, small-group learning. In fact, “collaborative efforts” is actually one of Bridges Together’s core values! Most Bridges lessons have the small group participating in an activity and completing an educational project together.

Allport: Support of authorities, laws or customs, meaning both groups must acknowledge the “authority” that allows for interaction between the groups. Bridges: “Authority” sounds very official, but what this means is that participants know that they are doing the “Bridges program,” and it is this program that is arranging the meaningful interaction. Teachers, principals, senior center directors and activity coordinators clearly endorse this arrangement and the participants know this.

Allport: Personal interaction, meaning there is informal interaction with members outside of the group. Bridges: All Bridges programs require (very light) homework, which involves interviewing someone in the participant’s family or circle of love. Then, the personal interaction happens in the small groups where everyone is encouraged to participate — or at least pass. They cannot to be passive!

We have always believed that the Bridges program is a vaccination against ageism and a prescription for longevity — check out Dr. Ed Thompson Jr.’s research showing a “legacy effect” of the Bridges program. Now we can thank Dr. Allport for his hypothesis that gives a framework for how Bridges overcomes prejudice against the old and the young!

Interested in overcoming age prejudice in your community? Contact Intergenerational Facilitator Julie Shaw via email or at 978.793.9509 to find out more about the Bridges Program Curricula Suite.






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