Learning from the past, present and future


Any library is bound to have dozens of biographies on past presidents George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, scientists Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawkins and athletes Jackie Robinson or Michael Jordan. What those bookshelves are missing are the life stories of Five Towns residents who have seen the world change before their eyes.

“Grandfriends,” a collaborative program with seniors from the Center for Adult Life Enrichment and Celina Bialt’s third grade class at Hewlett Elementary School, creates a place where the children interview older people. The first meeting was on April 19. The center on the Hewlett High campus offers an array of programs, activities and trips to the more population in the Five Towns and surrounding communities. Hewlett-Woodmere School District Superintendent Dr. Ralph Marino also sat with a couple of the children.

“Instead of learning and reading about people that they’ve never met,” Bialt said, “we brought in some senior citizens for them to interview and write their own biographies of.” This is the first time they’ve done this program, and on May 20 the seniors will return to the classroom to receive their biographies.

Students and seniors sat together asking questions and eating cookies, with two third-graders for every adult in most cases. “Because I’m a kid myself,” said Don Newman, of Hewlett, when asked why he took part. “I wanted to have fun, it gives me something to do, and the younger generation is going to run the world ... I want to get the younger generation started right.”

Jayden Vargas was interviewing Newman. “I wanted to learn about his story and everything he’s done during his history,” Vargas said.

Both the young students and older adults seemed fascinated with the differences between the worlds they grew up in. “The thinking is so different between our lifestyle and their lifestyle,” said Woodmere resident Stanley Brill.

Seniors repeatedly mentioned how much technology has changed the world and were quite interested in learning what it’s like growing up with iPhones or iPads. Conversely several students exclaimed they didn’t know what they’d do without the internet.

Perhaps years from now some of Bialt’s current students will return to Hewlett Elementary explaining what it was like growing up in 2018 to their own grandchildren.