Age’s irrelevance where friendship is concerned has been reinforced by a collection of Seacrest Country Day School elementary students and residents at the Terracina Grand assisted living facility.
They were brought together by the most recent addition to Seacrest’s community outreach program that matched members of the sixth-grade English class writers club with Terracina Grand residents.
The pairings involved having the students interview the seniors about their lives for the purpose of penning a short biography. After meeting for roughly one-hour sessions, twice a month for five months at Terracina Grand, a final get together was held between author and subject. At that gathering near the last school year’s end, the youths read their work to their new friend and then presented it to them as a keepsake.
“They asked things like who was your favorite teacher, your best friend, what did you enjoy doing and playing, your favorite movie stars, your favorite TV shows,” said a Terracina resident who took part, Jean Halvorsen, 71. “I had ‘Have Gun Will Travel’ and ‘Hit Parade’ and ‘Spin and Marty,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, I remember watching all of those.’ It was a lot of fun.”
Michelle English, a Seacrest administrative assistant was a coordinator for the outreach project and accompanied students on their trips to Terracina. She said the project was part of the school’s creative inquiry curriculum for English teacher Linda Rich’s class.
Approximately 27 students were involved, some of them in two-person teams, because just 12 to 15 Terracina residents took part.
“They learned all kinds of things other than the writing. That in itself is huge,” said English. “But being able to go through another person’s life with them was incredible. And we have some matches that I didn’t think those people were ever going to let those children go,” she added with a chuckle.
She said Rich created a list of general questions for the students to use, covering such things as the seniors’ childhoods, their education, their families and careers. From there, the youths had to play reporter, building a rapport with their subject as they learned about their lives.
“We had residents pulling out old pictures, old news articles, I mean, they wanted to help these kids so much and they wanted to work with them,” said English. “I had one old gentleman who, as we were taking the students to read the biographies, he said, ‘You have to promise me you’ll bring them back at least once a year. They’ve become part of our lives. We want to continue to watch them to grow.’”
Seacrest has had a community outreach program with Terracina Grand for its fifth through eighth grade students for about four years.
“Kids will come over twice a month to play games, arts and crafts – some are educational,” said Leigh Bullen, the facility’s life enrichment director. “We just have a great relationship with Seacrest. Some of our residents have watched these kids grow up through the years.”
She said she observed something very wonderful and very important at Terracina Grand, intergenerational interaction, blossoming during the biography project.
“I observed the kids asking the residents what they like, what they did for a living and to see that interaction between young people and the older generation was very moving,” Bullen added. “The kids were very diligent about making sure they spelled things correctly and that they got the right information down. I think it was really rewarding on both ends. Close relationships developed and they looked forward to meeting each month and picking up where they left off. It was really a great, great program.”
The project was also a hit with now rising seventh graders Gabrielle Zappulla and Sophie Aspregren. Both said they learned a great deal from conducting the interviews and writing the bios. They also said gained real insight into life in days past and what made the seniors they worked with the people that they are today.
“I loved it because you’re there, you’re sitting down and they’re basically telling you stories about what their life was like when they were my age,” said Gabrielle. “The experience was just amazing.”
Sophie worked with Patricia Arsenault, whom she now describes as a good friend, who was thrilled with the biography and having it read to her.
“She really enjoyed being there and she said she would share it with her family because she thought it was a great idea,” said Sophie. “It turns out that she didn’t know that I was writing a biography of her. She only knew that I was asking her questions. So it was a nice surprise for her.”