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Linda Breytspraak 

Center on Aging Studies Director Linda Breytspraak looks on as Cartier Dean, 11, reads his winning essay.

Children’s essays on older adults bridge gap between ages

Eleven-year-old Raenelle Green calls her Grandpa Frank the “History Channel Man.”

“He can tell stories all day without taking a breath,” Green read in front of fifth-graders and adults inside a University Academy auditorium. “He is full of history and wisdom.”

She placed second in a unique writing contest sponsored by UMKC’s Center on Aging Studies and a local branch of the Older Women’s League (OWL). Sixty-five University Academy fifth-graders wrote original essays about influential older adults in their lives. The adults the children selected had to be at least 50 years old.

It was the first local service-learning project of its kind at the K-12 college preparatory charter public school. The purpose of the essay contest was to raise awareness among young people about the contributions of older people in their lives and the value of these relationships.

Since 1900, the average adult lifespan has increased by 30 years, said Linda Breytspraak, UMKC director of the Center on Aging Studies and chair of the Department of Sociology/Criminal Justice and Criminology.

“In a graying society, today’s youth will need to care for aging parents, work with older adults and adopt a healthy lifestyle to ensure their own successful aging,” Breytspraak said. “Developing positive attitudes in childhood about older adults could go a long way in combating negative stereotypes of aging in the future.”

Wisdom expressed through the ages

Gamma Beta – UMKC’s chapter of Sigma Phi Omega, a national gerontology honor society – and OWL members selected three top essays and nine honorable mentions. The group judged the essays for originality and creativity, clarity of ideas and content related to meaningful relationships with older adults.

All 12 winners from the essay contest were given roses to present to the adults from their essays.

The first-, second- and third-place contest winners read their essays aloud. They each received a certificate and a framed photo of them with the older adults.

Cartier Dean, the third-place winner, wrote about bonding with his grandfather through basketball. He divided his essay into four quarters.

Seventy-four-year-old Pete Corpeny wept when he heard during the assembly the words his son Kevin had written about him.

Kevin placed first in the contest with his essay “Sharing My Role Model.” He wrote about how his father helps him with his homework and how happy he was his father considered him “tough enough” to go fishing with a group of Pete’s friends.

“I read it for the first time today, and it surprised me a lot,” Pete Corpeny said. “I’m sure this will not be the last time he blows me away.”

Breytspraak said humor, history and the value of hard work emerged as common themes in many of the students’ essays.

“These fifth-graders learned life lessons, some profound and some more subtle, from their senior companions,” she said. “They see these figures as the role models and heroes, the wise storytellers and the glue of their families.”






“Developing positive attitudes in childhood about older adults could go a long way in combating negative stereotypes of aging in the future.”              -- Linda Breytspraak, UMKC Center on Aging Studies director

Center on Aging Studies online at http://cas.umkc.edu/cas