Recently 22 students from Courtney Neese’s AP English classes enjoyed an emotional, uplifting lunch with residents of the Manatawny Manor senior living community. This luncheon was the finale of a winter term-long, Thursday class period engagement with residents during which the students and their senior “matches” talked, danced, played balloon volleyball, and became friends. However, it's safe to say that this finale was not a "goodbye," as the students indicated their plans to stay in touch with the residents.
Following the lunch, served to residents by the teenagers, each student presented his or her match with a booklet containing personal memories and impressions and a poem written to preserve their new, special bond. While the residents and their caregivers noted that The Hill students made an impact on the seniors, the students said their interactions were equally life-changing, if not more so: The “Storied Lives” shared by their older mentors – from veterans, to grandparents, to world travelers -- were described as inspiring, transforming, reassuring, humorous, insightful, educational, and sources of strength. The students plan to stay in touch with their new friends.
Courtney created this powerful short video compiled from photos and short videos gathered throughout the term, culminating with the luncheon. View the video here.
More about “Storied Lives”
Courtney passionately describes the “Storied Lives” service learning experience here:
“Twelve years into my teaching career, I was eager to take on a new challenge. I began feeling like there had to be a more powerful way to connect my students to their classroom material. I was ready to help them take their learning to the next level. While the students work really hard in the classroom, I was confident that I could reach them at an even deeper level, at a level that would leave an impression long after the final class bell had sounded each day.
“Last summer I received an Oaklawn Curriculum Development Grant from The Hill. It allowed me to spend part of my summer fully entrenched in research and then development of a new course. I kept coming back to one question again and again, ‘Why should our learning be restricted by the four walls of our classroom?’
“The more digging I did into service learning, the more I began to realize that we could use the entire community as our classroom. The deepest learning happens when students are able to connect their classroom learning with the real world, so that’s what we set out to do.
“The academic component of ‘Storied Lives’ is rigorous. We read poetry, prose, plays, articles, and short stories by some of the best authors, poets, and playwrights. We spend one day each week reflecting on our work and making connections between what we have read in literature and what we have learned from our own experiences. And, we spend Thursday afternoons at Manatawny Manor, a local retirement community.
“At the Manor, students are paired with elderly residents and, over the course of the term, spend seven weeks sitting with them and hearing the intricate details of their lives. My students learn to be compassionate and caring and empathetic. The students and their partners cry together and laugh together; they exchange personal stories, share life advice, and sit in thoughtful silence together; they hold hands and emotionally embrace each other. In addition to the deep impact our students experience from the relationships they form with their partners, this course also forces my students to reflect deeply on a personal level. As they hear stories of love, stories of war, and stories of loss, they think about their own lives, their families, and their futures.
“’Storied Lives’ is the most powerful classroom experience I have had during my teaching career. For 40 minutes each Thursday, it is an opportunity for my students to put aside their normal teenage stresses and focus on something bigger than themselves.”
Beyond a doubt, this service learning opportunity shows Hill’s commitment to the part of our School mission calling on us to challenge our young people to “serve the common good” and “lead as citizens of the world, uniquely guided by our motto, ‘Whatsoever things are true.’”