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The Four

Greenspire middle schoolers’ final literature project connects them with local elders

The middle schoolers at The Greenspire School in Traverse City did something unique with their end of the year literature project. While studying poetry, their teacher, Claire Alexander, decided to give them a more hands-on assignment.

“The project actually is influenced by a local poet and author. His name is Terry Wooten. He wrote Stone Circle poems, and in the back of this book, he did what’s called the other project he called it, and they brought elders in, recorded their stories, and then the students and Terry were also able to write some free verse poems based off of those words. No, art is really original at this point. So, we did end up using this as our influence, and we have done this project I think three times now pretty successfully, bringing the connection into elders from our community as well,” said teacher, Claire Alexander.

Claire decided to reach out to her grandmother, who lives at a senior apartment complex to help connect to other elders in the community.

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“It has been such an exciting time for me because I’ve had a chance to peek into their lives and find out how many of them were alive during the Depression and lost their farm, their homes, and had to move in with grandma and grandpa. So many of them were on farms. I know about their military service and who had the first car with get a battery or gasoline or who owned their first airplane and reading the history and learning this about these lovely people who live in this apartment. It’s just it’s just a wonderful, wonderful experience,” said Claires grandmother, Nancy Alexander.

The students were paired with an elder to ask some questions about their past memories and experiences and used it as inspiration to turn into poetry.

“I think it’s always very impactful for anybody just to reflect on things from the past, even just to write those things down for yourself. But then also having this extra step where someone else is going to be reading that and doing something with it as special as writing a poem about it,” Alexander said.

“I’m writing about my other teacher’s dad, named Curtis, and he’s really funny. He has a lot of funny jokes. And I’m just doing free writing,” said student, Amiya Moore.

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“I’ve been telling the students constantly, you know, this is this is their lives. And you need to be respectful of this process because they’re willing to share this part of their life with you. And that’s really, really special, even if it’s just a simple story. Some people wrote pages and pages. You could tell they just wanted to be able to share who they were. And now the students have been able to go through that and create some art with it, too,” Alexander said.

Not only is this a project that gets students more involved, it also gives them an opportunity to learn from and connect with their elders as they explore the world of poetry.

“It’s been fun because like, it’s different to see like what they did when they were our age versus what we’ve been doing now that we’re our age,” Moore said.

And while it’s been a memorable learning experience for students, it’s also brought many smiles to the faces of the elders in the community.

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“It’s just great, you know, it’s memories for them. And as you age and you have doctor appointments galore, happy moments are very important to remember and good ones,” Nancy Alexander said.

Last week, the seniors came to the Greenspire School, where the students presented their final poems to the person they originally interviewed. It was a special day for these elders to see how the students decided to craft their real-life experiences into an educational opportunity and creative outlet.


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