Sparwood Secondary student, Audrey Roberts hugs Olga Wojtulaon on October 27, after presenting her with a copy of Untold Stories of Sparwood. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

Connecting generations through writing

Students sit down with seniors to create book of memoirs

In Sparwood, tucked away from downtown is a hidden gem, a senior’s complex known as Lilac Terrace.

Sparwood Secondary School English teacher, Yvonne Prest, came up with an idea that would not only teach her grade 12 students how to write in a specific way, but also challenge them to step outside of their comfort zone.

Originally, Prest’s intention was to simply take the students to Lilac Terrace to read and get to know the seniors, but instead she strove for a way to make it more meaningful. Inspired by the Legacy Project, students started studying how to write autobiographies.

She proposed the idea of creating a book three months ago.

Each would go to Lilac Terrace, sit down with a senior, and interview them one-on-one. After asking questions and sharing stories about their own upbringing, students would take their notes back with them, and produce one page of a book. The students’ response to the proposal was unanimously positive.

Sixteen participants from Lilac Terrace jumped at the opportunity of being interviewed by a student. This worked well with Prest’s 15 students.

Over three months, students met with seniors twice a week, playing games and drinking tea.

Randal Macnair and Kyle Hamilton both volunteered their time to help in the creation of the book and the portraiture of the students and seniors.

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Prest recently spent two weeks with her 92-year-old grandmother in Ontario. She realized that her grandmother had a very limited social life. Year after year when Prest went to visit her, she saw her grandmother’s health deteriorate.

“I realized we have a real social issue with isolation in our elderly population,” said Prest. “So I liked the idea of bringing the young and the elderly together, not only for the idea of passing wisdom and learning from each other, but just really to connect and be together.”

After months of hard work, students presented what they had written to their new friends at the Senior Drop-In Centre.

One student for example, Dane Campbell, spent his time with a man named Don Anderson. After his interviews, Campbell came back to school with 10 pages of notes.

He exclaimed to his teacher, “This man is so amazing, I don’t know if I can tell his story. Who am I?”

Prest simply encouraged him.

“Thanks back to you guys for sharing your stories with us,” said Campbell on the night of the book presentation. “We were blown away … what you guys had to tell us.”

The students noticed that most of the seniors had experienced much tragedy, but were strong despite this. Some immigrated to Canada with only 25 cents in their pocket. They were happy to live in the Elk Valley, and possessed a ‘glass half full’ mentality. The students found this inspiring.

“They have so much to tell, and they’re lovely people to talk to,” said Allison Liebe, another student involved in the project.

“It would be nice if other kids can keep doing this,” said Campbell.

The students’ relationship with the seniors didn’t end after the book was released. Many still return there regularly to have tea or go for a walk with the seniors.

“To me, above learning how to write and cite and all that, they actually gained a community connection, which was huge,” said Prest. “I think it’s really important that more of these projects happen, so I’m excited to see what’s going to come next.”

With the funding from the book sales, Prest hopes to build a garden at Lilac Terrace with the science class in the spring.

Untold Stories of Sparwood is available for purchase for $15 at the Sparwood Public Library as well as Sparwood Secondary School. As of press time they had sold out, but are currently ordering more which are set to arrive late November. Contact Yvonne Prest at Sparwood Secondary School to reserve a copy.

 

Reese Barrett hugs Edie after presenting her with a copy of Untold Stories of Sparwood. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

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