Bridging the Generation Gap: A 6th Grader’s Insight into Collaborating with Seniors

May 29, 2020

Gloomy. Gloomy and unhappy. These words describe the Iranian Jewish Senior Center. The lights were dim and the walls were a little dirty. You could tell that not a lot of the residents liked it there. The nurses yelled, and the seniors went to bed around 7 p.m. They needed a light. Joy. Something to make the center feel more alive.

Fun. Fun and energetic. The sixth graders at Pressman Academy are always in a good mood. They hang out and tell jokes to one another. Everything was calm, and nothing big really happened. None of the teachers was too bad, and not a lot of the students felt unhappy. They were fine, just as they were. Just perfect.

Excited. Excited and hopeful. That’s how the seniors felt after they heard the news: Sixth graders from Pressman Academy were going to visit the Iranian Jewish Senior Center once a month. Most of the residents were filled with joy because they hadn’t experienced pure happiness in a while. They were excited, for a change, for something different, because right now, everything was the same. Everyday things were the same.

Nervous. Nervous and squirmy. The sixth graders were walking to the Iranian Jewish Senior Center. They weren’t very excited. When they walked in, all of the seniors were sitting in chairs against the walls. The students had to sit in the middle of the floor. People started to sing but it sounded kind of unnatural. You could hear a few nurses yelling at seniors in the background of the singing. One of the women  started to tell instructions to everyone. Then she said them in Farsi. All of the children felt uncomfortable. After all of the instructions, the children were given clipboards and were supposed to interview the seniors. The seniors were difficult to understand. A few of the seniors acted a little awkward, and even kissed students. It was all a little strange.

Delighted. Delighted and happy. The seniors had fun. Even though they couldn’t do much, they enjoyed having children in the senior center. The children brought in energy as they walked through the door. The seniors wanted the kids to come back. It was better than every other day that they had, with the same schedule. They didn’t seem to notice that they made the kids a little uncomfortable. They kind of treated the kids as if they were their own grandchildren. It was strange, but also nice. The seniors were happy when the children came, which made a big difference from before.

Annoyed. Annoyed and unwilling. The children were back at school. None of them really wanted to return to the center because they all generally felt a little uncomfortable. The senior center was not what they expected. Most of them were probably expecting the place to be like a nice apartment building, and the seniors to act like their grandparents. But the seniors were older. Some of them were blind. Some of them couldn’t hear very well. Some of them couldn’t speak very well. And some of them had only short-term memory. The children complained to teachers, saying they didn’t want to go back. They made up reasons to not go that had to do with the seniors, and how they were strange and awkward, when they knew that deep in their hearts, that they had already labeled the seniors since the beginning.

Optimistic. Optimistic and hopeful. Even though they didn’t always show it, a lot of the seniors at the Iranian Jewish Senior Center were pretty excited about the kids from Pressman Academy coming. So of course, they were excited when the kids visited again. This time, a band called Distant Cousins was coming. The bad was going to write a song with the kids and seniors. The song was supposed to be about miracles. The seniors had lots of miracle stories.

Calm. Calm but still upset. The children now knew what to expect, but still weren’t very happy to be there at the senior center. They walked in and, as usual, sat on the floor. The children were asked to go around and ask the seniors about miracle stories they’ve had in their lives, as ideas for the song. The seniors had lots and lots of very different stories. They all had the same big idea: being OK and happy. In the end, we came up with lyrics: “I can see; I survive; I’m healthy; I’m alive.” After that was the chorus, that just kept repeating “it’s a miracle.” And then we repeated the entire song in Farsi. It was different, but a nice kind of different.

Changed. Changed and suddenly thinking differently. At least that’s how some students felt. At the Iranian Jewish Senior Center, the kids were all still uncomfortable. They were still nervous. They were still squirmy. They were still annoyed, unwilling and upset. But they all knew, in the back of their minds, that life really was a miracle. Both for the kids and the seniors. It was a twisted, crazy, amazing miracle.

Emma Steuer is a student at Pressman Academy. Her essay on her experience at the Jewish Iranian Senior Center won second place in a national competition sponsored by the Better Together Program.

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