DALLAS — How would you increase joy and connectedness at the Dallas Retirement Village?

It was the question a group of students from the Dallas School District were asked to answer this summer.

Innovate Dallas, an organization that encourages schools, community and businesses to come together to learn the skills of innovation that are needed to help drive economic growth in the region, and Construct Foundation, an organization based out of Portland that puts together design challenges to inspire change and leadership in school districts, partnered together to bring this set of high schoolers the Breaker Challenge, an eight-step design challenge that is meant to create solutions to real-world scenarios.  

In this case, it was how to make the retirement community stay connected with one another and the community.

Nine students, eight incoming freshman and one incoming sophomore, were part of the challenge: Jaden Erwin, Garrett Blake, Ed Dyer, Emmaleigh Hausler, Cadence Kumnick, Maisy McAllister, Luc Peffley, Jordyn Wynia and Morgan Helfrich.

LaCreole Middle School Principal Jamie Richardson was in charge of selecting kids.

“I looked at the kids, knowing that we wanted kids going into high school who had leadership skills,” said Richardson. “I was looking for that kid who may not be that natural leader, who’s more quiet, but whose skills would come out in this project. In the end, it was the perfect group; a mixed bag in there, and it was cool.”

The Breaker Challenge was Aug. 5 through 8, with a presentation on the last day at LMS to reveal the ideas the group had come up with.

The first three days, students visited the retirement village, where they initiated interviews and talked with the residents about what could benefit the village and increase joy and connectedness.

“So the students go out and interview residents and try to uncover the needs of the people that they’re trying to design for,” said Erin Brey, teacher delight specialist at Construct Foundation. “They define the things they want to work on, specifically based on the things they heard from the people they interviewed; then they brainstorm a lot of ideas; then we prototype and test those ideas. A lot of times they’re theoretical. Implementing them is not necessarily the goal of this challenge, but it would definitely be a great outcome.”

There were some obstacles along the way.

“I think, early on, it was hard for them to initiate an interview without it being set up for them,” Brey said.

“And at the DRV, you don’t know if you’re going to run into someone with dementia, and how do you deal with that?” said Hilary Boyce, DRV representative.

Blake said that trying to communicate with residents was a challenge.

“They can’t always hear very well,” he said.

On Aug. 8, the group presented the ideas it had come up.

“One of the ideas was an open house, to have bingo with food they can serve, lots of tables for everyone to sit down. That was just one of the ideas we came up with,” said Blake.

Some other ideas were bringing in a petting zoo for the residents, a welcome party, where residents are introduced to everyone in the village, and “Friendly Face,” where a student is matched with a resident, so the resident always has a buddy.

“I think the open house idea was very good, but all of them are just good,” Blake said. “Because it’s a way for us to connect with the DRV. I thought the retirement community is kind of sad, but they’re always busy, doing events and stuff.”

The point of the project may have been to come up with a real-world solution, but both students and residents received much more out of it.

“It was so great to see their (the students) response to see these people (the residents),” said Brey. “Garrett (Blake) came back from an interview, and said, ‘We just met the most amazing person! She told us all these things about her life and it was incredible!’ And it was cool that that was his takeaway, which, it’s powerful for kids to learn that and be inspired by older generations.”

The residents, in turn, enjoyed having the kids come in, said Boyce.

“The residents love having the kids here; they love their energy,” Boyce said. “Residents like to be part of the planning and the solutions — they want people to know that they still have something to offer. And so I think that’s what they got out of it, that these kids wanted to talk with them and listen to them.”

This challenge is the first of its kind at the Dallas School District.

“This type of learning is a new concept,” said Richardson. “This challenge, in Dallas, was a pilot to see what it would look like in smaller communities.”

Richardson said he hopes this type of learning becomes an everyday-thing within the school district.

“It breaks down barriers between the community and the school,” he said. “And to see these kids shine and learn and reflect was cool.”

Multiple businesses sponsored this challenge, including Dallas Education Foundation, Dallas Dutch Bros, Mitch Ratzlaff State Farm, Dallas Rotary, Dallas Community Foundation, Construct Foundation and the Dallas Retirement Village.

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