Remembering what it was like to be a kid

Generations Day helps pupils, elders bond by comparing their school days

October 20, 2006|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN REPORTER

Allie Sheedy, 8, watched with wide eyes as her 70-year-old grandmother shared memories of getting ready for the school day - which meant using a brick to sharpen hard chalk that she used to write on a slate, and freshening up with splashes of cold water at the kitchen sink.

"No hot water?" Allie asked yesterday. "Oh man, that was hard."

Later, Allie and the other pupils at Rodgers Forge Elementary gave their older relatives a look at the changes that have come to the typical schoolhouse. That included a tour of one classroom with wall-to-wall computers.

During the annual Generations Day, pupils and about 350 grandparents, older relatives and other senior visitors swapped stories about school - then and now.

"While it may seem that we had it harder because we didn't have [modern conveniences], I think it's harder for the students now because they have to learn so many subjects at an early age," said Gloria Jennings, 63, who was with her great-niece, 7-year-old Sydney Boyd. "Education has become more complex."

Educators at Rodgers Forge Elementary introduced Generations Day six years ago to help the children show their appreciation for their elders.

Pat Nuckels, a speech pathologist at the Towson-area school, said the event gives the two groups new perspectives on a common experience.

"It also gives them a historical perspective," she said. "And it gives them a bonding experience by giving them some time together."

Nuckels said the day is an ideal way for children to expose their grandparents - many of whom haven't been in a school in years - to an academic experience far more sophisticated and complicated than decades ago.

For instance, she said, "for our children, the computer lab is an everyday experience."

Many of the older relatives described a simpler academic experience.

"We had a one-room schoolhouse," Jennings said. "But we learned so much. The teaching was so different. ... It was the respect we had for adults. We didn't have any back-talking."

Although Jennings marveled at the SMARTboard - an electronic whiteboard that is connected to a computer and a data projector - in the school's computer lab, she worried that the children are too dependent on the technology.

"They only know one way," she said. "They can see everything visually, but we had to use our minds" to grasp the concepts being taught.

Still, Jennings proudly watched as her niece logged onto her computer and whizzed through the project she was working on with her great-aunt and her grandfather, Nathaniel Boyd, 56. Together, they were developing a graphic that would depict items that existed when the elders were children, things that are available only now and things that both generations experienced.

"Kids nowadays are being taught things in first and second grade that we weren't taught until high school," Jennings said as she watched Sydney type in "computers" and "cars" as things that didn't exist or weren't common when her great-aunt and grandfather were in school. "Learning how to use a typewriter, we didn't learn that until high school."

The technology is an advantage, Jennings said.

"The world is moving so fast and you must keep up," she said. "A lot of people in my generation have not been able to make that change. In the 1980s, when I was in banking, everyone said that by the year 2000, every house would have a computer and we didn't believe them."

In Kim Kelch's third-grade classroom down the hallway from the computer lab, the pupils interviewed their older relatives to tease out details about their experiences as children.

Constance Bignell, Allie's 70-year-old grandmother, grew up in Amsterdam. She said her family had no television, no telephone and, certainly, no computer.

"Now we have a TV in every room," said Allie, who added that she couldn't imagine spending her weekends in school as her grandmother had. "Did you at least have recess?"

Yes, her grandmother said. The kids went home for lunch and then returned to school.

Warren Hiss, 81, and his wife, Jeanne, 78, enthralled a group of children with stories of going to school during the Depression.

"We walked to school, had no TV and all the boys had to wear neckties," said Warren Hiss, who attended George Armistead School, which was housed in a building - now a museum - in the 1400 block of Light St. in Baltimore.

He said teachers were strict disciplinarians in his school days.

"If you were naughty, your teacher would whip you or shake you," said the World War II veteran. "I got shaken a few times."

Warren recalled that each punishment came with a second dose.

"If I got punished by my teacher, when I went home I got punished again for giving my teacher a hard time," he told the kids.

Not a hand went up when Kelch asked the children who would prefer to have grown up during their elders' school days.

"So when you think you've really got it rough, think about these interviews," she said.

The children nodded.

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