When tasked with filtering information from a senior for a school project, three pre-teen girls didn’t expect to make a new friend. But Rielle Bohnet, 12, Sam McKinlay, 11, and Eden Marshall, 12, talk of Audrey Bruce, 88, almost as if she is a pal. Perhaps that’s because they came to know her as a person, recreating “A Day in the Life of Audrey Bruce” for their top-marked project at Monterey middle school.
As part of the intergenerational project to both educate and celebrate the school’s 100th year, three classes of students made their way to Monterey recreation centre to meet with seniors in the Craft Carnival and iPad clubs.
When Karen MacEwan, vice principal at the middle school brought the idea to Lesely Cobus, co-ordinator at the rec. centre it was a no-brainer.
“I embraced it absolutely,” Cobus said. “So often life gets divided up to different ages and stages, but the bottom line is we all have one life. We need to share the joys and trials. There’s so much to be learned from people that have ‘been there done that.’”
Approaching a stranger is tough enough when you’re 12, but proposing a school project adds to the pressure. Plus there are the preconceived notions and expectations.
“I thought I would hate it because I’m a totally shy person. You had to find somebody yourself,” said Bohnet. “It was super awkward but the teacher pushed us. We had a lovely conversation about school.”
Actually, they spent a few moments comparing their experiences, two generations apart, at Willows elementary.
“I thought old people would be grumpy,” said McKinlay. “She was extremely nice and interesting.”
The trio didn’t start as a group, and each girl has a different first memory of meeting and speaking with Bruce. In fact the ‘Day in the Life’ format wasn’t the original project they had in mind.
“We formed our whole project around Audrey because she was so interesting,” McKinlay said. “I felt like we had things in common.”
“She was easy to work with,” Marshall added. “She had real conversations with us, the most interesting part was interviewing her.”
At the recreation centre, the iPad club worked with teacher Lonn Friese’s Grade 7 students while the Craft Club worked with Lana Rudd’s Grade 6 class. A Grade 7 class, led by teacher Kelly Dodd, connected with 10 seniors from the community, grandparents and neighbours, who volunteered to come to the school once a week for a month.
“It was really an experience for me because they wanted to know about my childhood,” said Bruce. “I’ve never lived anywhere else other than Oak Bay, so they had a lot of questions. It was good for my brain to think back that far.”
She takes pleasure in the fact that the girls scored an A+ on the project.
“They were very gracious. You can hear a lot of facts but if you can’t put it together it can be all smudged,” she said. Bruce saw the display last Wednesday when they invited all of the seniors for tea and to peruse the displays, watch video projects and even do a little old-timey dancing.
“I was totally floored. I’m going back to my childhood and I thought it would be a written report,” Bruce said. “It was really an experience and enlightening situation for me to see how these children just mingled and were interested. It was very exhilarating, I learned a lot from them.”
The girls created a timeline of a typical day for Bruce as a teen in the 1940s. Bohnet enjoyed looking up old advertisements and pulling up archival photos of Oak Bay for her booklet, while Marshall and McKinlay took a creative nonfiction approach to pen journals for both a weekday and weekend.
“This was a wonderful way to build community and connect generations, bridge that generation gap,” said Mayor Nils Jensen, after the event. “It was wonderful to see the kids and seniors connecting. It was just such wonderful community project. The enthusiasm and joy in that room was just incredible. It was very uplifting … We have great kids that are going to be great stewards for our future.”