Generational learning

Park Place middle schoolers, Brookdale seniors take turns talking tech, experiences from past

Kelly Sullivan

Vicky Gent recalls little use of the hand-cranked telephone installed on the wall of her childhood farmhouse in Montana.

The antiquated device operated in stark contrast to the dynamic smartphones and handheld electronics that saturate the market today. Gent referred to her family’s early method of communication as a “ring-a-ding,” while making a circular motion near her ear with her right hand. 

“The first thing was the cellphone,” Gent said. “Technology has grown so fast, it’s hard to keep up.”

Gent sat across from Park Place Middle School sixth-graders Morgan Walser and Tia Johnson on Wednesday, May 3, in Brookdale Assisted Living’s commons area. The two students are quite savvy with the most modern gadgets, and shared a little of their knowhow with Gent on Wednesday, April 19, during their first trip to the facility in Monroe.

Teacher Kathy Rowe arranged the meetings between her class and a group of residents with Brookdale’s activities director Sue Kieffer. The two seized the chance for a collaboration that would bring the community’s youth and seniors into the same room.

“We’ve never done anything like this before,” Kieffer said. “We have had kids come in and sing, but they have never interacted on this level. You should have seen the reactions they (the residents) have after the kids leave; it’s like they took 10 years off them — they just love it.”

At the first meeting, members of both groups came in a little nervous, Kieffer said. She saw one girl’s hands shake while explaining what she knew about her technology. Both sessions lasted about 30 minutes. Rowe and Kieffer said the apprehensions quickly subsided, and many weren’t ready to leave when the time came.

Rowe said she tries to instill in her students the importance of wisdom and knowledge, and how to gain and express the two. She said the first trip was about the students teaching their knowledge in a role reversal, and to glean some wise words from their older acquaintances during their second visit.

“It was probably more challenging because the kids were put in position of teaching, when naturally the elderly give information to the younger,” Rowe said. “Even though it was challenging, I think it went really well.”

On the class’s first trip, sixth-grader Marisol Garcia said she gave lessons on how to use the voice option for sending text messages on a smartphone, but the information seemed of little interest to her pupil. She and her friends Brissa Garcia and McKenna Maki all have phones now. They said it was interesting to talk to people who rarely use electronics.

“It is kind of weird because I don’t know how they would be having fun,” Brissa Garcia said.

All three girls agreed they don’t consider technology important, but most people they know use electronics regularly in their daily lives. Maki said she often uses it when she is bored or finishes her homework.

Gent said she is well versed in using the iPad she has owned for almost four years. Kieffer said there are a handful of residents at Brookdale that are quite skilled at using various devices. However, many aren’t, and have openly requested more information on how to text, search the internet and use other features.

Rowe said she hopes to continue the visits next year, and potentially plan trips to Brookdale consistently throughout the school year. She said she could see the students learning more emotional, social and academic skills by spending more time in the facility, such as writing and story telling, which would align with Washington’s Common Core State Standards academic learning goals.

“I still have Common Core to teach, but if you can get the kids to learn Common Core strategies through something they are interested in, they are going to learn a whole lot more,” Rowe said.

In the second session, students came armed with 20 prepared questions for the residents. Walser and Johnson took turns interviewing Gent, who recalled moments for them like the nuisance bear her father would leave bacon out for to lure the animal in for a better shot, and picking wildflowers as a kid.

Rowe wrapped up the session by asking the residents to tell the students some wisdom they were given by their own parents or someone close to them growing up. Gent repeated her own perspectives to “treat others how you want to be treated,” “always be true to yourself,” and “just always be kind to everyone.

She took Walser’s hand and said how sweet it was to meet with them, and wished them both a good summer.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan: Brookdale Assisted Living resident Vicky Gent chats with sixth-graders from Park Place Middle School on Wednesday, May 3. Addley Pattie meets with Park Place Middle School sixth-graders from Kathy Rowe’s class at Brookdale Assisted Living in Monroe on Wednesday, May 3.


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