Everyone likes to tell their story. Five years ago, a language arts teacher at Sts. Peter’s and Paul’s High School, Karen McLaughlin, decided to create a project for her eighth graders that involved interviewing and writing about the residents of Londonderry on the Tred Avon. Each year, her eighth grade students are each paired up with a resident of Londonderry. Students spend time with the residents, interviewing them about their lives, and then write up their interviews. A month later the students present their findings to the whole Londonderry community.
Karen McLaughlin, the coordinator of the program states, “Having this generational learning experience with someone two generations older is invaluable.” She adds, “There were so many emotions in the room when the students presented – tears and hugs were shared as students selected highlights of their stories, including the funniest and most memorable things they learned.”
McLaughlin explains that many of the students don’t often get to spend quality time with their grandparents because many of their grandparents do not live near them. This writing and interviewing exercise provides the opportunity for students to interact with residents in a unique way. While students ask the residents about their lives during a different time period, the residents equally want to know about the students’ lives as well. Often they talk about common subjects such as discipline, sports, and activities that the students are experiencing in high school.
“This program encapsulates most of what I do in language arts – public speaking, thinking on their feet, and writing skills. Because the students actually give the written pieces to the residents, they work hard to do their best work.”
Londonderry resident, Frank Hinchion, who was partnered with eighth grade student Zach Pelczar, commented, “I felt youthful again talking to Zach. We had things in common. I went to West Point and his father went to the Naval Academy.” He adds, “I was especially impressed by Zach’s ability to write. It was very well done.”
Zach Pelczar wrote about Hinchion, “As a result of the potato famine in the mid-nineteenth century, Frank Hinchion’s grandparents immigrated to the United States of America. They arrived in Boston and then moved to Salem, Massachusetts, which had many Irish immigrants. Growing up, Mr. Hinchion and his family maintained their Irish heritage.”
Among the findings of the eighth graders, were that one resident had met John F. Kennedy and one resident had worked with Coretta Scott King. McLaughlin adds, “They were amazed at the lives these seniors had lived and their activity level today.”
Two years ago, McLaughlin added the Talbot Senior Center in Easton to the program.