High school students, retirees bridge generational divide
Susan Beer,of South Hadley right, Melinda Messeck,17, of Northampton and Sebastian Ross,17, of Northampton, listen as part of a intergenerational discussion group consisting of Northampton High School students and seniors.
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Northampton High School student Leila Kouakou,16, left, listens as Naomi Yanis, of Northampton speaks about her experiences growing up. To the right is NHS student Mara Heng,16,. The students and seniors were part of a intergenerational discussion group organized by the Five College Learning in Retirement group. Purchase photo reprints »
Northampton High School student Mara Heng,16, of Northampton, listens during an intergenerational discussion group with seniors and students held Feb. 7 in the high school library. Purchase photo reprints »
Jane Luff,left, of Amherst, Mollie Whitaker, of Williamsburg and Maya Kerstetter,17, of Northampton, at a intergenerational discussion group consisting of Northampton High School students and seniors.
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Dorothy Gorra was one of a group of seniors, all members of the Five College Learning in Retirement group, who took part in an intergenerational discussion group with Northampton High School students. Purchase photo reprints »
Northampton High School student Mara Heng,16,, talks about her experiences as a teen as part of a intergenerational discussion group with area seniors hosted Feb. 7 by the Five College Learning in Retirement group. Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — Sometimes, the gap between generations can seem like a chasm; other times, it’s hardly noticeable.
A group of Northampton High School students and senior citizens from Five Colleges Learning in Retirement experienced those contrasts first-hand last week when they met up in the NHS library.
The Feb. 7 gathering marked the second year that the Five Colleges group has hosted a “Lives of Our Teens” seminar at the high school. This time the conversation drew 13 NHS students and 11 retirees in the 70-plus age category, all members of the Five Colleges educational group.
Maya Kerstetter, an NHS junior, said she wanted to participate because, “it’s a good opportunity to hear how different things are now than they were then. Times have changed a lot.”
Sophomore Olivia Wakefield said her grandparents have shared stories with her about their high school years. “They’ve told me about things like bullying, that there was a lot less then,” she said. “Also the Internet. They didn’t have that.”
The subject of technology also interested Jim Harvey, a retired high school teacher who served as moderator for the session.
“The amount of technology teens are involved with is very different,” said Harvey, a Hadley resident and president of the Five Colleges group. “A lot of us have teenage grandkids, but you don’t always get full answers from them.”
Harvey began the conversation by pointing out a major similarity between the teens and their elders.
“One of the things we have in common is that our groups are badly stereotyped in the media,” he said. “We’re not doddering old fools. And you teens are also not happy with some of the stuff you see depicted about yourselves.”
Harvey asked a series of rapid-fire questions with a show of hands for answers.
How many of the NHS students had travelled outside the U.S., for example? About half the students hands went up in response.
How many of the senior citizens had traveled abroad as teenagers? Only two hands were raised.
When it came to questions about college, Harvey noted that he paid for almost all of the $1,500 it cost to attend the University of Illinois more than 50 years ago, “just from my summer and after-school jobs.”
“I had no tuition,” fellow retiree Naomi Yanis of Northampton chimed in. “I went to City College in New York and it was free.”
The high school students shook their heads in amazement.
When two groups asked questions of each other, the back and forth covered topics ranging from what it was like to grow up in the Cold War era to what books have influenced teens the most.
A question from NHS senior Jacob Levitt, about how technology has changed the lives of the older generation, elicited the liveliest discussion – and a few surprises.
“When I was a child we had no TV,” said Dorothy Gorra, a retired elementary school teacher who lives in Northampton. “Now, you can stream movies onto your TV and I also have an iPhone.”
Amherst resident Jane Luff, a retired nurse practitioner, said since her children and grandchildren convinced her to join Facebook last fall, she’s been receiving daily photos of her newest grandchild, who lives in Russia.
“It’s the quickest way to keep in touch with people far away,” she said.
Still, when Harvey asked how many of the retirees had texted in the last week, only one hand went up. The same question posed to the NHS students resulted in every hand being raised.
“That’s one difference right there,” Harvey said. “We are slower to adapt to technology.”
Yanis, who began her career as a teacher and ended up as a computer programmer for a telephone company in N.J., noted the down side of technology.
“Having the world at your fingertips is amazing,” she said. “But like any tool, technology can be misused. We get into the technology and we lose the person to person.”
Surprisingly, given their age group’s reputation for technology use, a number of the NHS students agreed.
“My biggest pet peeve is when you’re at a party and you see people sitting in a corner texting to people who aren’t there,” said Sebastian Ross, a junior.
“One of the things I don’t like about technology is the expectation of social networking,” said sophomore Benjamin Hill. “I was on Facebook but it’s boring. I’m unusual, I know.”
Several of the elders said they miss communicating via old-fashioned methods.
“Hand written letters are so rare, these days” said retired music teacher Flora Majumder of Northampton. “When you all become famous, where will you find the letters that will flesh out your biographies?”
Gorra had some parting advice for the students, “Pick up that telephone and call your grandparents!” she said, to laughter from around the room.