Children from the fifth grade at Belmont Elementary School were looking for stories to tell for an “old-fashioned radio show” they’ll produce over the next month.
They found all the material they needed at the Spangle Drive Senior Center in North Babylon, where they sat for an hour recently and heard accounts of war and revolution, what it was like to scrape by during the Depression, and of course, some love stories.
The Belmont students embarked on a special intergenerational project this month, with the help of the Great Neck Arts Center and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and New York State Council on the Arts.
The students learned the skills they’d need to conduct interviews with senior citizens from the Babylon community who agreed to share stories from their past. They will take the real-life stories and turn them into a script for a radio show -- though conceptually the 10- and 11-year-olds are thinking of it as a podcast -- they will produce with the help of sound engineers from the Great Neck Arts Center and debut back at the senior center in June.
“They are learning about where they came from, where their families came from and who they are because of their history,” said Kim Lowenborg-Coyne, director of arts and music for the North Babylon School District.
“They’re discovering that the seniors are really interesting and really fun,” she added. “They tell me all the time how cool this project is.”
In groups of four, the students read from a list of questions they had prepared to get to know the seniors. They asked them about the places they grew up, their children and what they liked to do for fun now. (“Eat, and go to bed,” joked one woman.)
But listening in on the interviews, the students had succeeded in creating compelling conversations rather than just firing off questions.
“When you have kids you lie a lot,” said Anna Barbera, 87, of North Babylon, to a group of children around her. “You don’t want your husband to hit them for doing bad things, so you lie.”
“Who told them to ask those questions?” Barbera said later, after hugging each of her interviewers with tears in her eyes. “I told them everything.”
At another table, students listened intently as Marty Newman, 86, of North Babylon, told them about his experience on a Navy ship during World War II and how his ship was scheduled to be part of the Normandy D-Day invasion, but was rerouted at the last minute.
“These kids have never heard about D-Day,” he said after the interview.
Newman volunteered to tell his stories to the children because he wanted them to know what life was like before they were born, so they’d be prepared for their futures.
Alexander Garbe, 11, of West Babylon, was one of the students who interviewed Anna Barbera. He said he learned a lot through the interview and was surprised to hear about many of the events in Barbera’s life.
“It was a fun project to do,” he said. “I’m learning how she used to live and it was tough back then.”
Photo: A fifth-grade student from Belmont Elementary School in North Babylon interviews a resident of the Spangle Drive Senior Center in North Babylon for a school project.