ICQ 2003/1

Full Benefit


Seniors from Longview take classes at the College -- and bring as much as they take away.

by Leslie Limon

On Veterans' Day a handful of students climbed into a College van. Their destination: the annual Canandaigua Treaty commemoration. "It was a great day," recalls Sue Cotton, one of the students who made the 100-mile round trip. Staying warm during the outdoor event, however, was a bit of a challenge "for this 80-year-old," says Cotton.

Claire Gilbert in class
Longview resident Claire Gilbert audits Michael Smith’s U.S. history class

Cotton, one of several residents of the Longview senior residence community who audit courses at Ithaca College, was enrolled in assistant professor of anthropology Jack Rossen's Northeast Native Peoples course. For nearly five years IC has had a unique, multifaceted relationship with neighboring Longview, with students from all the schools interacting on various levels with residents of the community -- from occupational therapy and speech-language pathology students running clinics at Longview to collaboration on research projects to an intergenerational choir to belly dancing classes and seminars for the residents run by IC faculty members. Longview residents have access to College facilities such as the Fitness Center and dining halls, and may attend athletic events and classes as well.

“It is hard for an
18-year-old in
2002 to know
the deep impact that World War II
or Vietnam had
on our society,
but through the Longview residents we are able to experience
what those times were like.”
--Holly Pietromonaco ’06

Dennis Perlus, who chose to live at Longview expressly because of its relationship to Ithaca College, is one of three Longview residents who audited assistant professor of history Michael Smith's course U.S. History since 1865 last fall. Claire Gilbert is another. Gilbert, who holds a degree in biology from Cornell University, explains, "I'd never taken a college course in American history, so I thought it would be a good thing." She admits she found it sobering. "The treatment of blacks. The Vietnam War. It's awfully hard to recognize that this country has had some miserable leadership. Good leaders have been few and far between."

Gilbert also engages in intergenerational discussion groups at Longview with some of Smith's students, who participate for credit. The idea for this project came to Smith as he sought ways to explore the relationship between memory and history. Twelve Longview residents and 14 students signed up, forming two mixed groups that meet once a month. The students keep a journal and summarize their insights on the final exam.

Professors, students, and auditors alike see value in intergenerational learning. Smith asserts that the presence of elders "is a corrective to a myopic version of history. "Old enough to be his parents, these elders don't hesitate to speak up in class, often illustrating that firsthand experience is a wonderful complement to traditional ways of teaching history. A person who actually lived through the periods being studied adds a different dimension than could be imparted by a faculty member or a textbook.

Elders also add a new dimension to classroom diversity. Comments Holly Pietromonaco '06, "As a student, I've always been surrounded by my peers, the only person not of my generation being the teacher. The Longview residents give me a new perspective on [older people and on] the past." She elaborates: "It is hard for an 18-year-old in 2002 to know the deep impact that World War II or Vietnam had on our society, but through the Longview residents we are able to experience [almost] firsthand what those times were like."

Student members of the Longview discussion groups cite a new awareness of how memory is shaped. Brad Forenza '04 says he now comprehends that people "interpret history differently because they experience history differently." Jenn Sosinski '06 wonders what kinds of things she will remember as she ages -- and why.

Discussion group participants are learning that history is not just about major events but also about changes in everyday life. Students were struck, for example, by an elder's advice to document even the most ordinary-seeming days. The subsequent discussion led one student to reflect on the technologies he takes for granted. Learning that some elders grew up with no electricity, he wrote, "Since they didn't have it, they never missed it! The same applies for radio, television, etc. What would [we] do . . . without computers? We would be absolutely lost. However, I wonder if we would be all the wiser for never [having experienced] the Internet."

Longview residents say they benefit from both course content and intergenerational contact. Perlus comments that talking with younger students helps her look at her own experiences from their point of view. Thomas Creamer, who audits assistant professor of politics Beth Harris's Constitutional Law course, remarks that he's gained insight into different views on political issues. Listening to others' opinions, he reflects, "causes me to do a lot more thinking than I ever did." And Cotton says that taking the course and interacting with college-age students not only make her feel younger but have also changed her ideas and attitudes about native peoples. (Before taking the course, she says, she'd held "strange ideas about Indians.")

Jack Rossen sees another benefit to Sue Cotton's presence in his class: she raises the standard. "Other students see how education is not to be taken for granted," he says. "They see this woman walking to campus, always prepared, who doesn't miss a class. She pushes other students to come prepared. We all draw inspiration from her."

The Ithaca College–Longview academic partnership is strong, and faculty are taking advantage of the intergenerational possibilities. Smith, for example, is planning panel discussions on two seminal events in the lives of the Longview generation: the Great Depression and World War II. He also anticipates higher enrollment from traditional students in his upcoming courses -- evidence that more students are starting to see value in what junior Brad Forenza terms "a unique learning experience: we have history in our classroom!"   end

Photo by George Sapio

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A. Ozolins, Ithaca College Office of Publications, 25 April, 2003