By Justin Swanson | LB Indy
“Thank you for sharing your life with me,” was the resounding chorus line at sixth grade luncheons held in the gymnasium at Thurston Middle School.
Students, family members and friends gathered to witness the oral reports given as the culmination of a month-long project March 25-27.
The project itself was based on an interview each student had to conduct with any person at least 50 years his or her senior. Before their final oral presentations, the students were tasked with writing an article based around a memorable historic landmark important to the subject, as well as creating a poster board depicting a timeline of the subject’s life.
Sarah Schaeffer, the sixth grade language arts teacher who assigned the project, says the multi-genre approach is a rigorous, interdisciplinary journey that takes the students from social studies through language arts to public speaking while also aligning with the Common Core Standards.
“It also gives the students some perspective on the past,” Schaeffer goes on. “It gives them some insight on events in history, events they thought of as just blurbs to an actual human experience.”
The most frequent historic landmark students found was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago, in 1963.
These oral history luncheons, of course, are not new to Thurston. They are in fact a part of a 33-year tradition, one that has great community value as Principal Jenny Salberg sees it.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn history within the family and then share it with the school community,” explains Salberg.
Due to the project’s longevity, some parents in attendance themselves completed the project as former students, says Salberg.
“Now it’s a milestone for sixth graders, a rite of passage,” Salberg declares.
Student Destiny Thompson learned that her grandfather Alonzo “has been chasing his dream of being a painter his whole life.” Christopher Henson discovered his uncle fought in Vietnam.
Most of the students credit their interviewees with shedding greater light on their respective family histories.
Jack Casey, who interviewed his grandmother Terry, says the work was challenging. “But I got a lot of help in language class.”
Jack never knew his grandmother had travelled throughout America, Europe, and even Asia.
“Also, it was really surprising learning that she didn’t have the technology we do today,” says Jack, a point on which Schaeffer concurs is the commonest and most crucial revelation students encountered. “It was surprising finding out all of that came out around when I was born.”
How else best to impart lessons of humanity than oral tradition?