BUCKSPORT, Maine — The senior citizens center was abuzz with conversation Monday morning as students from Bucksport Middle School interviewed some of the area’s older residents as part of a school project.
The project, “Generational Snapshots of the Past: A Focus on Community Unity,” involves seventh-grade students at the middle school and about 35 to 40 senior citizens who volunteered to be interviewed for the project. Though the two groups were separated in age by as many as seven decades, they seemed to hit it off well.
“I enjoyed it,” said Lurline Webb, 83, a Deer Isle native who lives in Prospect. “I had to think way, way back. But he asked me good questions to prod me along. He was a good little inquisitor.”
The interviews were part of the yearlong interdisciplinary project that is built around the senior citizens, according to middle school teacher Bob Valenoti. The students will use information from the interviews for several writing assignments, and will use data from questionnaires in math class to develop charts and graphs, he said.
The seniors are the key to the project, Valenoti said.
“They’re an untapped resource,” he said. “We feel it’s important to connect with the community. It’s not only beneficial to the kids, but to the seniors, as well.”
Middle school teacher Darcy West smiled as she watched some of her students who seemed to come out of their shells as they interacted with the older residents.
“They’re just beaming,” she said.
The youngsters had prepared ahead, West said, learning about communication, writing letters and doing practice interviews with their teachers. They prepared a long list of questions ahead of time, covering areas such as childhood, employment history, politics, gas prices and their impressions of “then and now.”
“I’ve been looking forward to these interviews and getting to know the seniors,” said Colin Bechtel, one of the seventh-graders. “It’s been better than I expected. Their childhood was a lot different than ours. There were no buses; they walked to school, and they had a lot of friends. There were not as many differences in the kids in the school.”
Some of the questions and answers were a bit surprising to both generations.
“They were asking about my childhood,” said Joyce Johnson, 85, of Bucksport. “And they asked me what my favorite television show was when I was young. Well, there was no television in those days. It was all radio then. My father had the first radio in the area. I can remember listening to ‘Amos ’n’ Andy.’”
Seventh-grader Brenda Gray of Orland noted that those of the older generation were “more tech-free” than her own generation.
“They played outside a lot more,” she said. “They didn’t have a lot of technology.”
She also was surprised by the difference in wages after learning that the hourly wage at one time was 25 cents an hour.
For their part, the senior citizens seemed to be surprised by the range of questions their student interviewers covered.
“The two boys I talked with really were educated about what they were talking about,” said Bill Perkins, 73, of Orland.
Perkins added he thought the project was a good one for the seniors and the students.
“I think it’s excellent that Bucksport is doing something like this,” he said. “I think it’s good for the schools, and I think that it will help the senior center. It will help more people realize that there are seniors here and know what they are doing.”
That’s what it did for a group of youngsters on Monday.
“I was a little nervous about today,” said seventh-grader Lauren Kircheis of Bucksport. “But it’s been lots of fun. We’ve had good conversations. I always thought of them as friendly and nice, but I was a little nervous about meeting them. But I realize there’s really nothing to be nervous about. They really are quite nice.”
As part of the project, the students will produce different types of work, such as portraits and a DVD that Valenoti said they hope to put on display near the end of the year. He said they hoped to arrange for the seniors to view those displays at that time.
A second session of interviews between a different group of students and seniors is scheduled for Tuesday.