Students learn ‘real’ history from real life stories

COLUMBIA — Sixth-grade students at St. Joseph School embarked on a tour of the past century with elders of the parish as their tour guides. An invitation was extended to adults in the church who were born in the first half of the century to participate in an oral history project.

Thirteen adults ranging in age from 56 to 85 volunteered to participate in the project, and each of them shared their stories with a small group of two to four students, ages 11 and 12. During the first two meetings the students asked questions, listened and took notes. Then the seniors and the youths worked together in the computer lab creating booklets full of stories with “real” history. The final gathering was a celebration with refreshments served to the seniors by the students and the sharing of their stories read aloud to all.

When asked what they gained from the program, seniors wrote that they found the students to be mannerly, thoughtful, intelligent, interested in diverse subjects, and diligent workers. “The future of this country is in good hands!” wrote one elder.

They also enjoyed recollecting special memories and realizing that young people like hearing stories of the past. One person stated, “It reminded me of how important my past is to who I am now.”

The students were equally delighted with the program. During the course of the project they reported that they learned that older adults lead interesting lives, have many stories to tell, are wise and fun. One student stated, “I learned that older adults are nice and neat once you get to know them.”

The students also discovered that things are different today but that they have a lot in common with older adults. They heard stories of tough years and recognized how fortunate they are. One student stressed, “We need to thank them for fighting in World War I and World War II.” Several students said they enjoyed the project and would like to do it again.

Teachers observed that the older adults had a calming influence on the students and how engaged the students and seniors were in interviewing, listening, writing, editing and reading. Through this intergenerational program individuals — generations apart — shared talents and resources and made new friends.

May is Older Americans Month; May 23-29 is National Intergenerational Week.