Learning intergenerational lessons at Needham High

LIFE LESSONS: At Needham High School, students benefit from lessons in intergenerational relations along with academics.

Faculty members Bruce Cohn, who teaches physical education, and Gretchen Ayoub, career and community service learning counselor, developed the Senior to Senior  program through which students began working this fall with residents of Avita of Needham, an assisted-living facility for those with memory loss.

Once a week, a number of elders travel to Needham High School where students work with them during their gym period, in structured sessions that focus on strength training, cardiovascular routines, mobility work, and other low-impact exercises customized for each adult’s physical abilities.


According to Ayoub, the program with Avita of Needham is one of three intergenerational programs offered at the high school.

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Up Memory Lane pairs conversation and activity partners, while students record seniors relating their life experiences in Sages & Seekers. The adults who participate in these two groups, which are offered after school, get involved through the local senior center, Council on Aging, assisted-living facilities, and word of mouth.

An unexpected benefit, according to Ayoub, has been the friendship that has developed between the generations, whose members are commonly stereotyped, disenfranchised, and lonely. She said members of both groups naturally fall into conversation, with students additionally gaining skills and confidence through experiential learning.

“Both groups have gentle souls,” said Ayoub, remembering how one academically stressed student gained a broader perspective on life through the activities. In another instance, an older gentleman told Ayoub how much he enjoyed getting to know his teen companion, with whom he was glad to “share the same wonderful quality of talking out of turn.”

Cohn agrees that the programs are providing lessons that will serve the students for the rest of their lives.


“They discover that by making a contribution to someone else’s life,” he said, “their lives are enriched as well.”

IT DOES A BODY GOOD: Local-access cable TV personality Fred M. Grandinetti  (inset below) of Watertown has teamed again with Los Angeles-based actor and film producer Cuyle Carvin to promote exercise and nutrition to children on YouTube and Grandinetti’s show, “Drawing With Fred,” which airs in Needham and Winthrop as well as Watertown.

A 50-second video, “Create Your Own Storm — Drink Milk!” depicts Carvin running on a sports field before dropping to the ground in exhaustion and wiping sweat from his face. Then, a cold glass of milk appears nearby. He stands and drinks it, and a bolt of lightning energizes him to run laps. He then whips off his shirt to show the physical benefits of keeping milk as part of one’s diet.

Grandinetti, a collector of Popeye memorabilia and author of “Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History,’’ has aired original safety segments along with animated cartoons and art lessons on “Drawing With Fred” for 20 years. Carvin, whose dozens of television and film credits include a recent role on a CBS series, “NCIS,” is the founder of By the C Productions. They previously collaborated on a coloring book to benefit children’s charities.

While it’s common knowledge that Popeye eats spinach to stay healthy, according to Grandinetti, he praised drinking milk as another reason for the cartoon character’s vitality as far back as the 1930s.


“I hope the segment encourages a child to drink a glass of milk rather than something filled with sugar,” Grandinetti said. As for his collaborator, he noted, “Cuyle is simply a lot of fun to work with, and he understands educational segments can also be humorous and creative.”

For more information, go to www.cuylecarvin.com.  

INNER FILMMAKER: Since he began teaching at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 1977, Newton resident Robert Gerst  (inset below) has witnessed a tremendous increase in people trying their hand at filmmaking, both as ­serious students and Internet hobbyists. His new book, “Make Film History: Rewrite, Reshoot, and Recut the World’s Greatest Films,” is designed for both audiences, he said.

The book describes the history of film, shares stories about creative innovations, and covers technical aspects such as storyboarding, editing, and sound. Its companion website, www.makefilmhistory.com, offers hands-on exercises related to various filmmaking challenges through reworking and reediting landmark films that are in the public domain.

Gerst said his book appeals to anyone who has exclaimed, “How did they do that?” or “I’d like to make a movie, too!”

An at-large alderman representing Ward 1 in Newton from 1992 to 2004, Gerst is chairman of the city’s Community Education Commission and chairman of the liberal arts department at MassArt, where he teaches courses in film history, film aesthetics, and literature.

“It’s uplifting and inspiring to share with people what I love, and to help them grow in their own capacity to do something they love,” Gerst said.

“After all the money and advertising, at the heart of a film is the personal inspiration and vision of a dreamer. If you’re interested, you can walk down this path, too.”

SUPPORT THE TROOPS: Just before Veterans Day last month, Stephanie Hilton  of Newton read in a magazine that some members of the US military have limited access to toiletries and other personal care products overseas.

Over the next three weeks, she and fellow members of the Parish of the Messiah in the city’s Auburndale section collected 50 pounds of such items as shampoo, deodorant, hand and body lotions, feminine products, and hair accessories. The items were donated to Operation: Care and Comfort, a San Jose, Calif.-based  nonprofit that sends care packages to American military personnel stationed in combat zones.

The Episcopal parish included copies of “A Prayer Book for the Armed Services” and “Forward Day by Day,” with daily Bible readings and devotions.

“I hope the people who received the items made good use of them,” said Hilton, who also received cash donations toward the cost of mailing the boxes. “That was our goal.”

SHOP FOR DOGS: A Natick thrift shop, Second Chances, is providing patrons with a way to purchase inexpensive holiday gifts while helping homeless dogs find new families.

Items for sale typically include new and gently used clothing, jewelry, books, dishes, small furniture, rugs, lamps, holiday decorations, and greyhound-related products. All proceeds benefit a Hopkinton-based nonprofit group, Greyhound Friends, that is dedicated to finding homes for retired racetrack greyhounds.

Second Chances is at the intersection of routes 135 and 27 in downtown Natick, next to the town common.

For more information, visit www.secondchancesthriftshop.com or www.greyhound.org.  

People items may be submitted to Cindy Cantrell at cantrell@ globe.com.