ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — From lessons about never giving up, to baking, to glass blowing and cooking on the grill, elementary students from around the city are highlighting the lessons they have learned from seniors in their lives.
That’s thanks to the city of Albuquerque’s “A Senior I Know” essay contest, which is in its 38th year.
Each year, as part of the Older Americans Month celebration, students within the Albuquerque Public Schools district boundaries in grades one to five are invited to submit an essay about a senior in their life. The essays must be written by students and can be up to 300 words.
Kinsey Cooper, the city’s senior affairs marketing and communications specialist, said this year they received about 1,100 essays of which 30 were selected as winners. Cooper said some of the most valuable things seniors can offer are wisdom and life lessons.
“It can be hard sometimes to recognize the value seniors bring,” she said. “This contest helps remind young people what they (seniors) bring to their world and how valuable the connection with them is.”
At the start of the 20th century, the average life expectancy was 47 years, but today Americans are expected to live approximately 78 years according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means a robust senior population exists in almost every community. They are an added layer of support for working families and the community. From shuttling children, providing childcare, taking care of the sick, running errands, doing yard work or helping around the house, seniors can make day-to-day life easier.
Ginger Grossetete started the contest in 1982 when she worked for the city’s Senior Affairs Department. She got the idea after attending a conference.
“Nowadays people don’t grow up with grandma and grandpa,” she said. “Families are spread around the country, so children don’t get to have a relationship with seniors. This leads to a lot of misconceptions of what old people are like and sometimes those ideas are negative.”
She said seniors can pass on first-person accounts of history to children. She remembers one past essay where the writer interviewed their grandpa and discovered he had been in a concentration camp.
“It’s a great way for seniors and kids to connect,” she said. “And the kids get to practice their writing skills.”
This year’s essayists wrote about senior relationships in their lives with grandparents, aunts, uncles and educators.
Third-grader Wesley Carter wrote about his aunt Hellen, whom he said was good at encouraging people and had shown him the art of glassblowing and cooking on the grill. The grandfather of Timothy Daniels inspired the third-grader to become a jet pilot.
“My grandpa was in the Navy and he flew F-85,” he wrote. “He says you have to be good at math, be in good condition and you have to look good. … If you had to go potty on the plane it is tough luck.”
Most of the judges, Grossetete said, are retired teachers. She said they evaluate the writing skills, the uniqueness of the story and the emotional appeal. Some, she said, make them laugh and others can make them cry.
The city usually holds a big reception to recognize the children and the seniors they wrote about, but the pandemic has made that impossible this year.
“The wisdom and knowledge from our older generations are valuable resources that should be captured and recognized,” said Anna Sanchez, Director of Senior Affairs. “Our department acknowledges the contributions and impact of our community’s seniors on the lives of those around them – from raising and caring for their family to serving in the military to breakthroughs made in their careers – and we work to highlight those contributions to our youth.”