“There was rationing. And it wasn’t fun.”
“I remember standing outside my house in Belgium and seeing the German planes flying overhead. Now that was a sight.”
“I was cleaning the house. And my nine year-old came home from school, and out of nowhere, he told me that President Kennedy had been shot.”
Vivid memories and tales from the past helped history come alive for Fay’s ninth graders earlier this year, when they partnered with local senior citizens for a day of storytelling and sharing.
The event was part of a yearlong partnership between Fay and the Southborough Senior Center, which featured lectures and workshops that enabled the students and the seniors to serve as both teachers and learners.
The project with spearheaded by Upper School history teacher and Service Learning Coordinator Emily McCauley, who was looking for meaningful ways that her students could make a positive difference in the local community.
“An important part of service learning is expanding students’ horizons and helping them to understand the experiences and perspectives of others,” Emily says. “I thought that planning some events with the Senior Center would be a great way for students to build connections with the community.”
A Walk Through History
With this goal in mind, the project began in September, when the seniors came to campus for a morning lecture about Fay’s collection of presidential letters, followed by a luncheon in the Root Meeting Room and a tour of campus.
That gathering was followed by a February workshop where seniors met with Fay’s ninth graders. As witnesses to pivotal events of the 20th century, the seniors shared their personal memories as well as their reflections on how media coverage of newsworthy events has changed over the years.
The seventeen senior citizens who shared their stories were peppered with questions from the students: What was the most important world event that took place during your childhood? What do you remember reading about in newspapers and hearing on the radio? What musicians did you listen to when you were our age?
The seniors’ stories were lively and covered a variety of topics: victory gardens and rationing, an escape from WWII Belgium, the day when President Kennedy was assassinated, and bomb shelter drills, just to name a few. One senior citizen even brought in his slide rule to share as a hands-on example of how much technology has changed since his childhood!
While the students were fascinated by these first-person historical accounts, the learning was by no means one-sided. As the morning progressed, the seniors were eager to ask their own questions of the students and intensely curious about the lives of the ninth graders, many of whom were boarders from across the United States and around the world. Seniors asked the students what felt like to be a boarder so far from home, what it is like to be a teenager in the United States today, and their opinions about American politics.
Sharing Through Song
The third event took place in April, when the seniors returned to campus—this time with music as the focus. Music teacher Stephen Buck gave a short presentation on choral singing and how he works with developing singers at Fay. Then he led the seniors through a brief warm up and introduced two songs, “The Orchestra Quodlibet” (Traditional) and “Shine On Me,” a spiritual by Rollo Dilworth. At that point, Fay’s Chamber Singers joined the seniors for a group rehearsal and mini-concert (which also included some musically-inclined members of Fay’s faculty and staff).
The response to these events has been unequivocally positive—from the faculty, who have enjoyed sharing their expertise with the broader Southborough community; from the students, who were fascinated to hear the first-person accounts of events pulled from the pages of their history texts; and from the seniors, who have loved learning more about their young neighbors just around the corner. Emily is already making plans for a follow-up series of events in the coming year that will expand and deepen this partnership: “It’s exciting to consider all the ways we can enrich each other’s lives.”