A Conversation between the Ages

Everyone has a story to tell. Wake Robin resident, John Hennessey, remarks that “it’s quite wonderful everyday” to be married to the first and only female governor of the state. He has fond memories of countless cities he visited with his wife, former Governor Madeleine Kunin. Hennessey’s stories and those of other Wake Robin residents are the subject of a year-long history and language arts project for Endeavour Middle School students entitled, Bridging the Generation Gap.  The school’s director, Andrew Everett, and teacher Julia Beerworth, have spearheaded the project in collaboration with Wake Robin coordinators Andrea Dion, Elizabeth McGinn and Matt Lieb.

Students look forward to traveling to Wake Robin twice each month to learn more about a select group of residents. This past Friday, December 4th, however, the tables turned and the residents had their inaugural visit to the Endeavour Middle School. They were thrilled to set foot in a classroom again and seemed to bask in the nostalgia of their own school-age experiences at the sight of classic books and the din of children’s laughter in the halls.

The prevalence of social media has fundamentally changed the way we interact with each other. While Facebook and Twitter may provide a conduit for useful information they are not conducive to (and can often substantially impair) the kinds of interpersonal exchanges and life experiences that have historically provided a common bond between older and younger generations.

Endeavour’s project gives students a taste of the oral histories and diverse social fabric that spanned generations in this nation from its inception. Students are building essential life skills by establishing relationships and gaining a new perspective. We all remember the great moral lesson from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” Endeavour students are doing just that. They are documenting poignant, first-hand accounts of the residents’ lives and crafting narratives for a final class project.

Sixth-grader Rowan Grosselfinger meets with resident Lois McClure, the wife of J. Warren “Mac” McClure--former owner of the Burlington Free Press. McClure looks forward to the visits and feels fortunate to share her treasured memories. Grosselfinger writes of McClure’s travels around the world. Her eyes light up when she recalls past adventures with her husband. She points to a large map on the wall and excitedly notes, “one of the most remarkable places I’ve seen is Easter Island.” Grosselfinger listens intently and is visibly moved as McClure describes the notorious shipwrecks on the Chilean island.

The project has facilitated cross-generational conversations that would not have happened otherwise, and the residents’ stories have inspired the students to learn more about how one person’s life fits within a broader historical context. Students Lauren Halberg and Jordan Townsend were fascinated to learn of Miriam Ellen Rebecca Goldschmidt’s encounter with Albert Einstein in her local library. In 1933, shortly after the rise of Hitler, Miriam and her family escaped Nazi Germany; she was the only Jewish student in her class who survived the Holocaust.

All of the residents have a wonderful way of telling a story—-their story—which offers not only an interesting account of events but a deeply personal perspective that is seemingly difficult to find in a book or lecture.
— Julia Beerworth, Endeavour History and Language Arts teacher