Laughter and squeels sounded throughout the large multipurpose room as children scampered about petting rabbits, ducks, a goat and a turkey. Watching on the sidelines, in chairs and wheelchairs, were elderly men and women, smiling and not minding in the least the noise and confusion
The scene was Fairlington Elementary School in Arlington, which opened its doors in September to Americare, a private day care center for adults in Northern Virginia.
The amalgamation of elementary school and adult day care came about because both groups had needs the other could meet. The school, with 110 students in kindergarten through third grade, was in danger of being closed because of declining enrollment, and Americare needed space for its daycare program, preferably where their clientele would be exposed to children. So this fall the Arlington school board agreed to lease space at Fairlington to Americare.
Fairlington principal William O'Meara says he was very pleased with the idea because he felt it would be mutually helpful.
"It's delightful to see their eyes light up when they see a child," said O'Meara, "and this does something for our little people to have daily contact with the older folks. We're very new, but every opportunity we have to combine activities, we're doing so."
Like the day the Park Service brought animals from Oxon Hill Children's Farm. Many of the children were having their first real-life look at farm animals. But for the elderly, many fo whom grew up on farms, seeing the animals was a time for reminiscing through the eyes of children. "Now stop! You come here!" exclaimed one woman to a goat as he gently nudged a startled little girl.
"It's therapeutic for the elderly to be with the children," said Jackie Cain, Americare activities coordinator. And teachers at the school believe it is equally beneficial for the children to be with elderly.
"Children accept what they see as being natural if they grow up with it," said Doris Broughton, school librarian. Americare personnel and teachers said children unaccustomed to being around the elderly or the handicapped are sometimes afraid of them. Bringing the children into contact with the senior citizens, they said will help erase such fears.
The children, many without grandparents nearby, are gradually becoming acquanited with the older people and are enjoying the experience. "I like them. They talked to us and showed us how to braid," said Carisa Hemming, a second-grader. "And they gave us pretzels," chimed in Jennifer Schuster.
June Rimberg, director of the day care center, said the program helps to ease the isolation of many of their patients. "These cannot cook or do their shopping. They have responded beautifully to being around people at Fairlington."
Adults in the day care program, which costs $20 a day, usually live alone or with their families. The program is open to any adult who needs care, including the elderly, the handicapped or persons recovering from medical problems such as heart attacks.
The cost includes arts and crafts supplies, a hot lunch and morning and afternoon snacks. Transportation to the center is available through Ironsides, at an additional cost; speech, occupational cost, is available through Rehab, Inc.
Hours for the program are 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Although the center is not open on school holidays, it does operate in the summer.
Americare also has a home nursing service, at $45 for 24 hours or, for periods less than, $4.35 an hour.
Arlington County operates an adult day care center at Madison Elementary School. There are no children at the school, which was closed to students three years.
For information on county-sponsored programs in Northern Virginia, residents should call their county government offices. The Department of Human Resources in Arlington County can provide information about financial assistance for local residents who want to partipate in programs for the elderly Americare, which accepts residents from throughout Northern Virgiania, is located at 933 N. Kenmore St., Suite 318, Arlington, or residents may call 522-4646.
Next fall, the Arlington school board will consider several options for Fairlington for the 1979-1980 school year: to expand the school to include kindergarten through sixth grade, to close the school or to continue operating as it is.
Since Americare has a three-year lease with tee school board, space will be provided for the day care program no matter what happens to Fairlington. However, Americare officials and O'Meara hope the center can remain in a school with children.
"I'm always optimistic," O'Meara says, "and I'm hopeful that young families will be moving back into the newly renovated condominiums in the Fairlington Community. But if the school closes, we're committed to finding Americare a comparable place."
Under the program at Fairlington, Americare has two rooms at one end of the children visit each others' rooms, attend joint assemblies and soon will be having lunch together in the school cafeteria.
In contrast to the lively classrooms, the elderly socialize in their spacious leisure room, which is subdued and quiet with sofa, chairs, fireplace, tables, plants and color television. They also enjoy activities in another room used for meals, therapy, and crafts.
But the success of the program is really measured by the response of the patients. One day recently, the men and women sat at tables talking with a visitor and showing off felt-covered bottles they had made.
"This morning we helped some second-graders with an art project," says Americare patient Madelyn Egenroad. "I talk to the little tots, if you can keep them quiet long enough. They all chatter.
"Listen," she beamed as voices down the hall began to rise, "here come the children now."