In an effort to deepen connections between Timberline students and members of the community, Rachel Nelson has tasked her grade 12 English students to produce a book of memoirs, capturing stories and experiences from local seniors at Berwick Manor.
Thirty-seven students from Ms. Nelson’s two English 12 classes are participating in the project, some as writers, editors, book designers, and art directors.
Over the course of three meetings, students interviewed their respective partner and wrote the senior’s story as it was told to them in the first person. Students also had to share a draft of their write-up with the senior to ensure that they captured everything appropriately.
The finished stories will be published together in a bound book, complete with photographs and artwork, and presented to the Berwick library and the seniors on June 4.
Some themes that students asked the seniors were to share a time: when they were in conflict with their parents and what they learned from the experience; when they had to choose to follow their own values, going against the expectations of those around them; when they experienced intolerance or tolerance and how they were changed by that experience; and to describe a time of hardship or challenge and what they learned from it.
“As these students are rounding out their final year of secondary education, I believed a critical piece of their education should have been to provide them with opportunities to meaningfully connect with members of their community,” said Nelson, when asked about her inspiration for the project.
“There are perhaps fewer and fewer opportunities today for young people to connect with elders than there were for previous generations. My hope was that through hearing and having to capture the seniors’ stories, students would get a rich English assignment, in addition to the opportunity to learn some universal insights.”
According to Nelson, the writing is particularly challenging because students have to consider appropriation of voice and how to safeguard and honour the subject’s voice without manipulating it with their own experience and ensuring that the story is captured authentically.
To help find seniors who might be willing to participate, Nelson reached out to Berwick activity coordinator Lynn Webber, who was immediately enthusiastic about the project.
“When I talked to the seniors about the idea of grade 12 students visiting and writing their stories, as a rite of passage, the seniors loved it,” exclaimed Webber.
“The students have approached the project and the seniors with a great deal of respect and appreciation for their personal stories. As one of the residents has said, ‘they are just good kids’. There is often a stigma attached to teenagers by older people, and the seniors have been happy to see that these are well-rounded, respectful young adults going out into the real world.”
While there is a requirement to produce a finished product, according to Nelson the students have already met the learning outcomes through the meaningful conversations they have had and how those conversations have given them a different perspective.
As one student quickly responded when Nelson first presented the project and the obvious question of marks came up, “I think this might be worth more than any mark possibly could be.”