Preserving History and Memory

A key benefit of the Signature Academic Program and its calendar is flexibility—especially the ability to develop courses in keeping with George School’s mission. Such is the case with Exploration of Memoir, a new elective that examines the genre through reading, writing, and service and that grew out of two students’ service-learning project.

Under the supervision of English teacher Courtney Bejgrowicz, Nhi Thanh (Sharon) Hoang ’22 and Ngoc Nhi (Chloe) Nguyen ’22 spent one afternoon a week with seniors at Friends Village, a Quaker retirement community that’s been part of Newtown for over 120 years. In addition to implementing recreational programming to promote social inclusion (like board games and music), the students developed an oral history project to preserve the history and memories of residents.

Working with former history teacher John Davison on the historical context of the seniors’ lifetimes, the students interviewed residents and then wrote narratives to document and share their new friends’ memories. “My favorite part of this experience has been watching our students bloom and flourish through this work,” shares Courtney, “learning how to not only engage with their elders but also learn from them and value them.”

The success of this work led Courtney to develop the new one-term English/service course, which focuses on memoir academically and experientially. Students consider oral, written, and visual modes of expression and read such texts as Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou to understand memoir’s literary tradition and impact.

By continuing the collaboration with Friends Village, class members hone their knowledge of memoir as they craft interview questions, collect stories, and preserve them, sustaining important historical memory.

Courtney reflects on the course’s potential. “My hope is to help students walk in those well-worn shoes and keep those stories, and lessons, alive for generations to come… to help our elders feel the respect they deserve, to feel heard, and to gift them with the written or spoken word to then share with their families. I cannot think of a better way for our George School students to learn about the importance of stories, writing, communication, speaking, listening, and humanity than this. The overall dream is to find a way to make the learning of these skills not only practical and hands-on, but also impactful to our community.”

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