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By Sandra Coopersmith
Observer Columnist 

Learn Something New at Any Age


March 15, 2018

Want to know how to create a positive catalyst for change? Try combining life experience and wisdom with fresh, youthful perspectives over six Wednesday morning sessions of creative and thoughtful interchanges between the sixth-graders of Culver City's Turning Point School and senior citizen volunteers.

"The Intergenerational Writers Workshop is always a highlight of my year," said Jill Thomsen, the Parks, Recreation & Community Services Specialist at the Culver City Senior Center who coordinated the seniors' involvement. "The teachers, students and seniors all seem to enjoy it and learn a lot from each other. I'm glad it's been happening for nine years and look forward to many more!"

The sessions, some at the center and some at the school, commenced Jan. 17 and ended March 7. Participants included 33 students, four teachers (Stephanie Grissom, Diana Bender, Marc Braunstein, and Elizabeth Davis) and nine senior volunteers (Lillian June Davis. Marilyn Russell, Bernadene Coleman, Peggy Cullinane, Anita Jasko, Janet Rohrbacher, Eloise Logan, Pauline Neilly, and me).

At our first session we split into four table groups, with mine consisting of Stephanie Grissom, Lillian June Davis, and students Niko, David, Mika, Ava, Alexandra, Ramsay, George, Jordan, and Carter. We had received advance instructions to bring in three six-word descriptions of significant events in our lives, together with accompanying photos or illustrations. Sharing these provided a great introduction.

We then read a fable about a lion sparing a mouse that vowed to repay the kindness, and when hunters later caught the lion and bound him in ropes, the mouse gnawed through the ropes to free him. We discussed the moral of the story, and homework was to write a short fable illustrating the importance of kindness.

Ms. Grissom advised me that "this year's focus was to share experiences and perspectives, break down cross-generational barriers, and enhance our local community connections by raising essential questions: Why is kindness important? What is moral courage? Why is moral courage important? What does it mean to be a citizen? "

Hmmm . . . it would have been good for the movers and shakers of this world to sit in on these sessions, I thought, but hopefully these youngsters will generate productive and socially conscious replacements.

At our second session we read and discussed our fables, and Ms. Davis shared an inspiring true story of a community that raised funds so children could see the Black Panther movie featuring a superhero they could relate to and who would leave them with a powerful and positive image.

We then read a quote by Mark Twain: "It is curious that physical courage should be so common and moral courage so rare." We discussed the differences between physical and moral courage, whether we agreed with the quote, if there was a time when we showed moral courage, how it felt, the impact of our courageous act and, conversely, a time when we could have shown moral courage but didn't and how that made us feel. Homework was to write a poem about the importance of moral courage and/or when it should be shown.

After sharing those poems at the third session we created a found poem, which consists of a line from each person's poem. Two of my favorite lines were "moral courage will call upon you when you least expect it" and "kindness doesn't have a 'use by' date."

Since the topic for the next session was integrity, our homework was to think about when it is hardest to keep our integrity and to create an image reflecting that moment. Using descriptive vocabulary, we were to include words and phrases demonstrating why it is important to keep our integrity in that moment, and how to accomplish that.

After sharing our homework at the fourth session, we read a poem by Richard D. Marco III called "Peace Begins With Me." We were asked to think about what peace looks, feels, and sounds like, and to share a time or moment involving it. That led into our homework assignment: Write a poem about peace, either global, local or personal, and include a simile or metaphor.

At the fifth session we shared our peace poems and discussed the writing process. Then we read Mother Theresa's wonderful "Anyway" poem that encourages us to give the best of ourselves despite negative conditions or influences. After being instructed to focus on kindness, moral courage, citizenship, and peace, my table then split into two groups, each creating an advice poem. Here's what my group came up with:

To thine own self be true.

Don't change yourself because others want you to.

Believe in what you want.

Avoid the people who are trying to get the best of you.

Don't let money determine what your aspirations are in life.

Be unique. Let kindness toward others determine your attitudes and actions.

Don't be afraid to ask for help, and be generous in giving it as well.

Don't fear failure – it is a learning tool.

To thine own self be true.

The advice poems were compiled in just a few minutes. After they were read, Ms. Davis and I were pleasantly surprised when the students briefly interviewed us with questions they'd prepared in advance. Homework was to create a found poem using a line from each person's peace poem.

At our sixth and final session, after discussing the found poems everyone was asked to suggest a slogan for this project. I was very taken with what the students at my table came up with (see the title of this article).

Toward the end of the session one of our ever vibrant senior volunteers, Peggy Cullinane, had the students doing the Macarena. (Thinking ahead, I used to do a pretty mean twist . . .) The students, accompanied by Mr. Braunstein on the guitar, also sang "This Land Is Your Land" as a treat for the seniors.

Ms. Bender, at whose table I'd sat in previous years, told me that "the Intergenerational Writers Workshop is always one of the highlights of the year for me. I am always impressed by the depth of conversation between the students and seniors and by the reciprocity of the learning and the connections that are made."

Comments from the students at my table bore that out and were very gratifying, as these brief excerpts indicate: "It helped strengthen my writing skills and my focusing abilities." "I enjoyed it quite a bit because it's not like you get to interact with seniors every week." "I enjoyed the poems that we wrote and then doing a found poem all together because it was interesting to see everyone's take on what moral courage or peace is to them, especially the seniors." "It was very fun getting to know Ms. Davis and Sandra." "I thought this was a great learning experience that helped me improve my poetry skills." "My favorite assignment was the fables because we got to do creative writing," "I learned that experienced people can definitely tell you things to put your life in the right direction."

The extensive scientific and medical background of my volunteer partner, Ms. Davis, came through in her comments.

"This intergenerational class is an unveiling of one's DNA," she said. "It starts with the outside epithelial layer of the skin and goes deeper into the fleshy layers of tissues; that really tells the complete historical synopsis of the human it embodies. The intergenerational class gives all of the participants the chance to evolve as individuals, writing our own opinions about worldly situations without worry of criticism or judgment. This program is so phenomenal. It is the ultimate format where a person interested in having a meaningful ongoing relationship with young people could enjoy the experience for a couple of months in this space."

As for me, given that I will be 80 before this year ends, it may seem strange that I would gladly accelerate time to get to Jan. 2019, but I'm that eager to have this constantly evolving experience reboot and replenish me yet again. "Learn something new at any age" works for me!


Reader Comments(1)

Kjoy writes:

What a beautifully written piece on an amazing program. It fills my heart with joy knowing that these deep and meaningful exchanges are taking place between seniors and students. The whole world is benefitted by these lovel interactions . Bravo!compress


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