June 17, 2002
Class project connects generations and builds relationships
by Deborah Stone
Last fall, eighth grade students in teacher Patti Holden's honors English class at Timbercrest Junior High embarked upon a unique year-long generation project that recently culminated with an inspirational and memorable celebration. The project began with each of the students choosing an older family member, such as a grandparent, great aunt or great uncle, to correspond with over the school year. The intent was to select an individual who was at least two generations apart in age from the student.
Each month the students wrote letters to their correspondent on a variety of subjects and the correspondents then responded with their own letters, addressing the issues raised, answering the questions posed and sharing their past experiences with the students.
"The idea for the project was not mine," explains Holden. "I got it from Ann Bates, an English and social studies teacher at Leota Junior High who had done it with her honors English class before and reported great success from it.
Ann's sister had actually done this project when she had been at Leota years before and the experience had been incredibly meaningful for her. It had left a powerful impression on her and according to her, it was the most meaningful and memorable project in all of her schooling. I got very excited when I heard about this project and I decided to try it this year with my class."
The project was aimed at allowing students the opportunity to connect with a family member via the writing process and to learn first hand about the history of a different generation.
According to Holden, the goal was to encourage a give and take relationship between the students and their correspondents regarding their thoughts, feelings and real life experiences. A list of topics with ideas for questions was given to the students to assist them in writing their letters each month.
Such areas included childhood experiences, school memories, the teen years, adulthood, healthcare, religion, technology, work and career choices, hobbies and interests and family.
In addition to the letters, students also asked their correspondents to provide memorabilia from their past, which was collected and later used in compiling a memory book. The completed books contained all of the written communication between the students and their correspondents, photos and other artifacts collected, original poetry by the students, a reflection letter about the studentís experience and an essay comparing and contrasting the generations.
"The reflections letter and the essay were an important part of this whole project," comments Holden. "They were opportunities for the students to analyze what they had learned and reflect upon it. I wanted them to use higher level thinking and writing skills. The results were wonderful! They were full of depth and incredibly insightful."
At the conclusion of the project, students began preparing for a generations celebration to acknowledge and show their appreciation for their correspondents and their contributions.
The students planned the whole evening, working together on committees to orchestrate every last detail of the party.
"The class elected a chairperson and then each student indicated his/her committee choices," explains Holden. "I tried to match them up with their choices and then they selected committee chairs. They took full responsibility for the invitations, entertainment, food, decorations, programs, etc and worked hard to pull it together."
The celebration, held in Timbercrest's cafeteria, was "magical" according to Holden. Many correspondents were able to come; some from as far away as New Hampshire and Chicago and other family members joined in the celebration, as well.
The event featured music, dance, food, speeches and the all-important presentation of the memory books, a highlight of the evening, which elicited much emotion from the recipients.
According to Holden, reactions and feedback about the event were overwhelmingly positive from students, parents and correspondents.
She says, "One correspondent, a grandmother of one of my students, came up to me at the end and gave me a big hug. She told me that she couldn't find the words to express how touched she felt and that the whole experience meant the world to her. I also heard from parents who commented on how meaningful the project had been and that they had learned so much from reading the letters, too."
Student Tara Spain says, "The project was definitely a lot of work, but it was well worth it. I learned so much about my grandma and it was fun corresponding with her. I really looked forward to her letters each month. They were special."
Another student, Greta Lindquist, comments. "I found out stuff about my grandmother I never knew, particularly about her youth and the hardships she experienced. She grew up in rural New Hampshire and here I am living in a large metropolitan area. The differences are amazing! The whole experience gave me insight into a different time and place."
The project fulfilled all of Holden's initial expectations. She says, "It went beyond that in every way possible. It really showed me the value in this type of project, from all sides. It is so special because it emphasizes the relationship component in education, which is so important and often overlooked. This project is a keeper and I know I will definitely do it again in the future."