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Students, older people connect through assignment

While teaching remotely earlier this school year, Agnes Stewart teacher Kirsten Woodward wanted to engage students in a more meaningful way. So she decided to have her students create a living document “that would stand the test of time.”

Woodward encouraged students to find a person half a century old to interview about their life and write a story about that person in chronological order. Some students were excited while others were feeling nervous. Seventh-grade student Bridgette Nault chose her grandma Judy Brown-Starnes and found her attitude about the assignment changed.

“At first, it was just another writing assignment that I need to get through, but the more I thought about it, this is important information,” Bridgette said.

When Bridgette asked her grandma, Judy Brown-Starnes, to participate in an interview and be the central character in a story, Brown-Starnes jumped at the chance. 

Brown-Starnes said she was honored to do this project with Bridgett “because I love her like crazy.”

Before the interview, student Bridgette wrote a draft based on stories she had previously heard from Grandma Brown-Starnes. Then, they got together for the interview. Like other students, Bridgette was surprised at what she learned about her grandmother. 

”I found out that she was born on the same date as her mom,” said Bridgette. 

Brown-Starnes was also born in the same hospital as her mom and played several sports growing up.

 

Logistics of a historical project in a pandemic 

Woodward said there were some barriers to overcome to connect students with the older population, largely isolated during the COVID pandemic.

“Sometimes the older population might think ‘I don’t have anything to share’ or ‘the younger generation isn’t interested,’ and yet, that was not my experience in this,” Woodward said. “Students were fascinated with the information they got. They were honored to be able to have it shared with them.”

Like Bridgette, most students chose a grandparent or a parent. Students who didn’t have a subject immediately available interviewed Agnes Stewart staff.

Students got to decide how they conducted the interviews: in person, telephone, or video conference. 

Bridgette and Brown-Starnes completed the assignment and reflected on its value.

“I’m glad I got to share the memories with her throughout the years,” Brown-Starnes said. “For her to do this with her grandma is a very special moment, and it will always stay in our hearts.”

Bridgette is grateful for this opportunity.

“I’m so lucky to have my grandma’s memories in my brain now,” Bridgette said. “I get to tell my kids that my grandmother was a bus driver, and she got to do all of these cool things, and I think that’s pretty cool.” 

Woodward believes students learned several great lessons from this assignment. She said her students gained a deeper appreciation for older people and the struggles they’ve faced. It also helped her students understand that everyone faces challenges and can persevere.

Woodward also said she was proud of the investment her students made.

“When I received the final projects, the thing that was interesting to me was the quality of writing,” Woodward said. “It was the best I’ve seen all year.”

Overall, everyone was excited about the project.

“I’m happy. Very happy. Like Christmas!” Grandma Brown-Starnes said proudly.

Reflecting on this project, Bridgette expressed excitement about sharing a part of her grandmother with her family one day. 

“This document could be around for a while, and my kids might know about my grandma. Yah!” Bridgette beamed. 

Read some of the stories here:

Bridgette Nault

Addison Coble

Alejandro Torres-Montes

Karmari

Phoenix Gabuya