A Generational Exercise In Perception

Time does indeed fly when you’re having fun. I can attest to that, having just completed this year’s stint as a senior volunteer in a wonderful workshop that began in 2010 between Culver City Senior Center and Turning Point School, and has flourished ever since.

Basically, each year several senior volunteers meet with a new group of sixth-graders from the school for around an hour on six Wednesday mornings.

We are divided into groups with a teacher, several students, and usually two seniors per table. Meetings alternate between center and school, enabling seniors and students to experience each other’s environment. Everyone completes the same homework assignment, which is then discussed at the next meeting. The focus and lesson plans vary from year to year.

This year’s workshop kicked off at the center on January 20 with four teachers (Maria D’Amato, Kirsten Huppler, Stephanie Grissom, Pat Colley) and slightly over 30 students.

The 11 senior volunteers were myself, Dolores Banerd (my table partner), Lillian June Davis, Marilyn Russell, Dorothy Lawshe, Ilene Cohen, Janet Rohrbacher, Anita Jaskol, Bernadene Coleman, Peggy Cullinane, and Ronny Barkay. Volunteers were divided into four groups, combining previous participants with newcomers. Dolores and I were joined by Ms. D’Amato, Will, Chandler, Jonah, Jake, Sophie, Ryan, Matthew, and Mae.

We brought in a 10-line biopoem per the guideline we’d received, and took turns sharing. Discussion followed regarding the lines we found easiest and most difficult to write. We then read an intriguing column written by Ruth Ann Dailey that had appeared in Post-Gazette.com and was titled “What’s In a name? A person’s destiny.” It included such examples as “Amelia Earhart, whose name, if you don’t consider the spelling, foreshadows her aviation career. She ‘hearts’ the air!”

For homework we were to write a column about our name and the name of someone we admire. As I prepared my assignment it occurred to me that maybe there was a destiny connection: I’m a professional artist whose name is pronounced SanDRAW. Hmmm . . .

At the center on Jan. 27 we passed our columns around the table so we could silently read each one, briefly writing down what we learned from each writer’s column and the most memorable detail it contained. After we discussed these impressions, Ms. D’Amato asked what factors, in addition to our names, affect our identity. We offered a list that included country of birth, religion, birth order, special skills, gender, hobbies, socioeconomic standing, and others. For homework we were to pick three of the suggestions and write a paragraph about each, describing the effect on our individual identity.

Feb. 3 we went to the school, read our homework assignments, and jotted down each reader’s name and two things we noticed from each report: something we had in common with that person and something that was different and unique. We then created a flower mandala.

Each petal represented one of us, with words showing what was unique about that person. The center circle contained what we all had in common. For homework we were to use color and create a captioned one-frame comic image depicting a moment in our lives when we were proud of ourselves.

Back at the school on Feb. 10 we shared our homework by covering up the caption and displaying the drawing to the group that then had to figure out what it represented, a fun exercise in communication.

The fun continued with a game in which we were each given a sheet and told to write a simple sentence at the top. We then folded that section over to hide the sentence and passed it to our left. That person looked at the sentence, illustrated the written message, folded it over, and passed to the left again. That person looked at the drawing, wrote what it seemed to convey, folded it over, and so it went, with the recipient seeing only the most recent message or drawing.

At the end of this literary origami we reflected on the difference between the beginning and ending sentences, reminding me of that game where you whisper something into someone’s ear, the message is whispered to the next person and the next, and the final version sometimes bears no resemblance to the original, the emphasis being on clear communication.

For homework we were to bring in a photo or picture containing at least two people.

On a separate sheet we were to write a short paragraph from the perspective of each of those in the picture, a clever exercise in imaginative writing. The direction of the workshop had clearly segued from self to seeing through another’s eyes.

Although we didn’t have a meeting on Feb. 17 the volunteers were invited to attend the school’s delightful production of Hello, Dolly that ran from Feb. 18 through 20.

On Feb. 24 we returned to the school for our next-to-last session. We put the pictures we had chosen on the table, and as we each read our paragraphs the others tried to match speaker with picture based on the visual and oral clues. Discussion followed about why it’s important to understand other viewpoints.

For our final homework assignment we were divided into pairs and given a few minutes to chat because, based on what we’d learned about each other throughout our sessions, we were to write a poem about our partner.

We had come full circle from the initial introspective poem about ourselves to creating one about someone else based upon our observations and perceptions.

We shared those poems on March 2 during our final meeting at the center. They were innovative and right on target. One was delivered in rap. Several incorporated color and collage-like effects, one reminding me of an advent calendar with flaps that opened to reveal words. Another cleverly incorporated an acrostic.

One poem’s words, one to a line, formed a triangle that tapered down from the longest word at the top to create a simple but striking visual.

We concluded that this workshop had been an insightful as well as fun experience, giving us an opportunity to share, learn from, and respectfully acknowledge each other’s perspective – a great lesson to extrapolate into day-to-day life and one that would be a worthy one for adults to assimilate – especially in this election year.


Reader Comments(1)

JillThomsen writes:

Thanks for the piece with your perspective, Sandra! I love coordinating this project every year as it is always a wonderful experience for both the kids and adults. Hard to believe its been seven years, that means the kids from our first year are in college now!