Times sure have changed. When I was in Mr. Pauley’s fifth-grade class, we were mainly interested in afternoon recess to avenge the loss of our softball game during morning recess. The school play was the big topic of the year, and we struggled with learning who the presidents were. For the record, Kennedy was president while I was up to bat at the sandlot games.

The other day, I got an email from Janet Hurley inviting me to come to Isaac Dickson Elementary School to be interviewed by one of her students, a young lady named Mabel. The topic of the interview was to be homelessness, and Mabel was creating a presentation from the interview; she plans to present it on June 2 at the TedX youth event in the auditorium.

Figuring it would be something different to do, I agreed. I mean, how hard would it be to answer a kid’s questions about a topic that I know so well — homelessness. Was I in for a surprise.

I met Janet at the door of the school. After chatting a few minutes about the project, she led me to the classroom where I would be interviewed, and she introduced me to Mabel. Settling into a kid-size chair at a kid-size table, Mabel told me what generated her interest in homelessness.

There had been a fire at an apartment complex in which she had lived. Several families had been forced out of their apartments because of smoke and water damage and had nowhere else to go. This got her to thinking about the broader topic of people finding out that sometimes bad things happen to good people and they lose their shelter.

Staring me in the eyes, she asked, “What can we do to end Homelessness in Asheville?” POW. This young lady cuts right to the chase — in the 5th grade and she’s asking questions that many adults don’t have the _____ desire to ask. I figured out immediately that this little lady had given the topic some thought and wasn’t going to be put off lightly by a grizzled ol’ vet with some tried-and-true answers.

After an hour of getting peppered by questions, I was ready to head outside for a smoke and to hunt down a cup of coffee. Janet joined me outside, and while I smoked one we chatted. She shared more about the program that was coming up.

Besides homelessness, some of the topics the kids picked to work on were autism, the impact on wildlife and the environment caused by throwing trash out the window, poverty in Haiti and a better school-lunch menu.

And Ms. Libby Kyles’ fifth-grade class was partnered with Janet to create the Writing to Change the World Project. The project focuses on global issues, using writing as a vehicle to show support, protest, persuade, explain and entertain — five things that many adults don’t seem to have the ability to do.

Even the website, http://www.tedxyouthisaacdickson.org, was researched, created and written by the fifth-grade students.

Yep, times have changed. Except that part about wanting better school lunches.