Senior learning: Sierra Academy seniors showcase semester-long project with video presentations of elders |

Senior learning: Sierra Academy seniors showcase semester-long project with video presentations of elders

Sam Corey
Staff Writer


Click here for the building bridges intergenerational project video link.

Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning’s multipurpose room was dark.

Still, it was possible to make out the black and white photos of elders splashed across the side wall, and to distinguish the Eskaton Village senior citizens sitting next to their paired students. A sign that read “Welcome Eskaton” was illuminated on the far side of the room.

“You don’t need a lot of luxury,” said Eskaton resident Irene Underwood. “What you need is stability.” Her words of wisdom shared with high school seniors were captured on a YouTube video, watched by students, elders and faculty at the school.

This was just one presentation among 15 that played at the Sierra Academy for Expeditionary Learning on Tuesday. The videos marked the completion of the building bridges intergenerational memoir project that began in February, where 15 groups of 44 senior students were paired with about 20 senior citizens, and assigned to learn about their lives.

“It was 10 times more work than I expected,” said Marika Beck. The English teacher said she stayed up late for weeks helping her students produce short films.

But for Beck and students like Thomas Dorsch the work was worth it, especially because Dorsch can’t often contact his grandparents, living on the East Coast.

“To be here now, showing the videos, it’s been a real fun process getting to know somebody from a real, completely different generation,” said Dorsch. “Without this sort of opportunity, I would probably have never done something like this.”

Dorsch’s paired elder, Underwood, agreed.

“They didn’t have to say too much, but just the questions they asked and giving them my experiences, it just brought us closer together,” said Underwood. “And I just feel very positive, and I hope they will do it again next year.”


The videos presented Tuesday captured four months of learning and life lessons passed down from elders to students. The lessons weren’t dated, said Beck, elders were teaching things they had just learned months or even days prior.

“(It’s amazing) how they are still working through the same stuff,” she said. “It’s not like they’ve got life figured out. It’s like they are still trying to figure it out, and they are still asking questions.”

Beck specifically referred to an elder who is working through issues in his marriage — after 77 years.

“(It’s) the idea that life is a constant adventure, a constant journey — you’re never done,” she said. “As long as you’re still actively thinking, you’re still actively learning. Because even if you can’t get out much and can’t do much you still have a life inside yourself. (In that sense), you don’t feel 80, you still feel like you’re 25.”


Savanna Lynn Williams, the student who captured the black-and-white photos of elders, said she did so because it reminded them of their past, before colored photography existed.

“It was something they could relate to — the pictures they had before,” said Williams. “Not too different from what they’re use to.”

Williams, who originally only took photos of her own paired elder, felt she could tell a story with photos, and was later assigned by Beck to additionally capture all the elders in still frame.

“I’ve always been kind of tripped out that there are so many people in the world and they all have their own story,” she said. “I never got to witness that myself, but I knew it was there.”

Because of these stories and the subsequent lessons, Beck plans to continue the project next year, and each year thereafter, making it a staple at Sierra Academy.

“I’m hoping this will be the senior project,” said Beck, “Because there will always be elders. There will always be seniors.”

And, as she noted, they will always be growing.

“Sometimes you see older people and you’re like, ‘Oh, life well lived,’” She said, quickly correcting the thought.

“No,” she said. “It’s a life still being lived.”

Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at

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