“I’m so happy right now, ” said Linda, a resident of the New York State Veterans’ Home at Oxford as she combed her hair, nibbled a cookie and waited for the next question. She smiled shyly at visiting Oxford Academy 10th grader Emily Barrows who was conducting an interview, and student TJ Hansen who provided technology support.
During two days last March, Linda was one of 11 veterans who volunteered to take part in interviews conducted by a group of Oxford Academy students under the direction of Social Studies teacher Christine Long. The interviews have now become part of the StoryCorps archive housed at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. According to their website StoryCorps, whose motto is “Listen, Honor, Share,” is a nonprofit that since 2003 has become one of the largest born-digital collections of interviews and conversations.
This opportunity was part of a Four County Library System (4CLS) outreach grant funded by the BOOKS Program (started by Senator Thomas W. Libous and now managed by Senator Fred Akshar). The idea came from 4CLS Director Steve Bachman who was familiar with the Veterans Home in Oxford, and the grant was written by Sarah Reid, Outreach and Youth Services Manager.
“If you don’t capture these stories,” said Ms. Reid, “they’re gone. These interviews are both an educational opportunity and a community opportunity for everyone.”
For weeks Ms. Long had been working with students to prepare for interview days. “Our group has been working on Fridays during Advisory* to prepare our interviews. We worked with our iPads to manipulate the technology, chose good interview questions, ordered the questions so the conversation would have a good flow, and practiced interviewing one another,” she explained.
The preparation was careful, and sensitively handled: “It may be scary for them too,” Ms. Long reminded students, “but these veterans volunteered and want to talk to us. They are leaving their mark on the world by being recorded, and in a way you are too.”
On interview days, participants were brought by Veterans Home staff and then Acting Director Nicole Artus to the community room at the Veterans Home. The warm buzz of conversation around the room is audible in the recordings.
“It seemed like they were making relationships,” observed Ms. Reid who watched the process. “They were sharing stories.” The students’ training and practice were visible as they worked to meet the veterans where they were, adapt to answers they may not have expected, and gently return to original questions.
In a group debriefing after one of the day’s interviews, students Catherine Northrup, Ellie Ryan, Taylor Moore, Emily Barrows, Allison Paster, and TJ Hansen talked with Ms. Long about their experiences. “Students had a lot of insight into how their lives are so drastically different from the generations that came before them,” observed Ms. Long. “And they couldn’t wait to hear a love story. Generations need to connect more with one another so we can learn from each other.”
To hear the Oxford Academy student interviews and see photos of the participating veterans at the New York State Veterans’ Home at Oxford, visit this link: https://archive.storycorps.org/user/4cls/ .
*”Advisory” is an open class period used by students to get extra help, work on clubs and special projects, attend meetings, and work on Pathways Plus exploration.