Sharing Precious Memories

Sharing Precious Memories

ANN BEARD (left) is presented with a photo by her young partner, a Mountain View Elementary second-grader, to commemorate their work together. (Harrison Mines photo)

Sharing Precious Memories

DOT HORNE reaches out to a Mountain View Elementary student who wrote Horne’s personal history after hearing her tell it. (Harrison Mines photo)

Sharing Precious Memories

GLORIA Coleman (right), 92, receives a Valentine from a Mountain View Elementary secondgrader. Coleman and other residents met with elementary students over several weeks during the Precious Memories Project.

Sharing Precious Memories
Residents Tell Life Stories To Second-Graders

“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!” Imogene Lotts said in response to a Mountain View Elementary second-grader, who helped tell Lotts’ life story at the Shenandoah Valley Health and Rehab Center Thursday morning.

Lotts and other residents gathered in the rehab center’s dining room that day to hear the results of an ambitious undertaking of Mountain View students: the Precious Memories Project. Over the course of several weeks this winter, second grade students visited residents to conduct a series of interviews to curate oral histories of their subjects. The morning of Feb. 27, students read aloud essays they wrote in teams to weave together the lifetimes of their new acquaintances.

“I’m so stinking proud of them,” Principal Lori Teague said with a smile prior to the presentation.

“You told some wonderful, funny, beautiful stories about your life and families,” Teague said to the residents. “They are your stories, but they were heard with second-grade ears.”

‘Tell Me A Story’

At the start of the Precious Memories Project, students were tasked with answering the question: “How do you keep a memory alive?” Mountain View connected with Shenandoah Health and Rehab Center staff, who selected residents they believed had stories to tell. To begin, Teague explained, the students’ first meetings with their assigned residents covered basic information – name, birthday, favorite color. As weeks progressed, students dug a little deeper into the residents’ life stories.

“This week, they’re asking ‘Tell me a story,’” Teague said in early February. “Tell me a story about when you were in school; tell me a story about your family.”

Interviews took place throughout the common areas of the Shenandoah Health and Rehab Center, with children engaging their residents in remarkably advanced conversation.

“Who is the most important person to you?” some students asked. “What do you want people to remember about you?”

Mountain View speech pathologist Joan Godfrey helped the second graders with interpersonal skills in preparation for their interviews.

“They learned how to communicate and ask questions,” she explained.

Students also used Chromebook laptops to assist with note-taking in the interview process. Despite technological assistance and guidance in editing by their teachers, the Precious Memories Project was completed wholly by second-grade students.

“No adult wrote their sentences for them,” Teague said.

A spokesperson from each student team read aloud their completed works the morning of Feb. 27, offering an introduction to the Health and Rehab residents.

“Second grade can be lots of fun. This year we had some super fun visiting the residents of the Shenandoah Valley Health and Rehab Center,” second-grader Luke read. “We interviewed a really kind, loving person. Her name was Alice Painter. We learned many things about her that we want to share with you.”

No Cell Phones

The students found that the early lives of the eight women shared similar, simple experiences – household pets, church visits and walking as a primary mode of transportation. The second graders all reported their residents did not grow up with cell phones, video games or television as we know it today. Instead, the women played Monopoly, tag and hopscotch as young girls. With most of the ladies growing up in rural settings, students’ stories included anecdotes of farm life and fond memories of fresh vegetables from the garden for dinner.

“She did not have running water in her house,” second-grader Remy said of Peggy Lipscomb’s home as a child. “She had to pump the water outside and bring it in.”

“[Ann Beard] cooked the food from her garden and then ate it,” second-grader Emma read. “Food back then was way better than today. Ann had fun back then.”

“[Dot] and her sisters heard a pop-pop-pop!” second-grader Ian read, retelling the moment Dot Horne’s canned tomatoes exploded in the basement of her family home.

Students’ stories echoed residents’ experiences of big back yards, playing outside and simple school houses at young ages. With the many similarities between the residents, the students were able to capture their diverse family lives.

“[She] never remembered as a child ever being alone,” second-grader Emma said of Ruby Huffman’s childhood. “Ruby and her family were always together. They always worked together and tried to live peacefully.”

Second-grader Mariah shared Catherine Tomlin’s experience growing up in an orphanage from age nine to 18.

“Catherine said living at the orphanage was fun and she learned so much being around so many people and she had a bunch of people as friends,” she read. “It taught her how to like all kinds of people. She feels sad for the people who didn’t live in an orphanage.”

In crafting their Precious Memory stories, students uncovered pieces of rich local history by working through the lifetimes of the rehab center residents.

Dot Horne, who attended Natural Bridge High School, shared with students her experience of the local floods of 1936, 1959 and 1969.

“The noise from the flood waters scared Dot because it was so loud,” second-grader Ian read.

Students learned that resident Ann Beard played basketball at Brownsburg High School, where she went up against rival Natural Bridge High.

“When Ann’s team won the District Championship, the Natural Bridge players sat on the floor and cried,” second-grader Emma read.

When the residents grew older, some students found the ladies were part of their own community. Second-grader Luke reported Alice Painter had worked in the cafeteria at Mountain View Elementary.

“Imogene wants people to remember she drove the school bus for the kids like us who live in Rockbridge County,” second-grader Chance read.

Meeting Mrs. Roosevelt

Besides the local stories, residents also shared with students personal stories that stretched beyond Rockbridge County.

Nova Scotia-born Gloria Coleman came to America after seeing advertisements for work at a U.S. airbase, she told her students. Within a year of moving and beginning work at the airbase, Coleman married her husband, whose transports with the Airforce enabled Coleman to go “all around the world.”

“She lived in Japan, Virginia Beach, New York, California and the Midwest,” secondgrader McKenzie read.

“[Catherine Tomlin] met Eleanor Roosevelt when Mrs. Roosevelt was coming from talking to a group of African Americans,” second-grader Mariah said of an interesting memory of Tomlin’s. “Eleanor knew she wasn’t that pretty but she was going to stand up on her hind feet and be a woman and make something out of herself. She did. [Catherine] liked Eleanor for being brave.”

Through meeting with their residents over several weeks, students also placed wisdom from their residents’ well-lived lifetimes into their stories.

“[Ruby] thinks the most important thing for somebody to learn is to read and to be able to add 2 and 2,” second-grader Emma said of Ruby Huffman’s best advice. Huffman was a long-time grade school teacher who valued her education as much as the one she helped provide others. She said education is “something they will use regardless of whether they sweep streets or go to the moon. Something that will benefit anybody male or female, old or young.”

Wrapping up the special presentation Thursday morning, the students offered their residents parting gifts as a thank-you for all of their help. Their goodies included bound copies of their personal histories and framed photos of the teams enjoying one another’s company. The students exchanged their gifts with the residents with the return of smiles, laughs and hugs from the ladies they worked with.

“These kids are so wonderful,” one resident said to another in the dining room.

“This project was fun but very hard,” secondgrader Ian read at the conclusion of his story presentation, summing up his team’s experience at the rehab center.

“We are happy that we met [her] because she is friendly and now we’ve got a new friend.”

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