The Prosper Valley School elementary school teacher, Barb Leonard, has conducted intergenerational projects for over 20 years in Pomfret, connecting her 2nd Grade class to seniors at the local Thompson Senior Center in Woodstock. Although the projects are aimed at teaching ethnography to younger students, Deanna Jones, Executive Director of the Thompson Senior Center, recognizes the value to the senior population as well. As a culmination of their intergenerational studies, the 2nd grade class conducted various ethnographic projects throughout the years that reflect upon what they’ve learned. In Spring 2017, VFC instructor Mike Leonard collaborated with the TPVS 2nd Grade to elevate their ethnographic experience, teaching the students about storytelling, interview and filming techniques, and the basics of film editing on iMovie. Their project was wrapped up with a video that showcased what the students learned from their older ‘special friends’:
The students began their intergenerational unit by understanding the differences between past and present, why we compare the two time periods, and what lessons the past might have to offer the present. There is a strong emphasis placed on relationship-building between generations in order to pass down knowledge and to further connect the community within an intergenerational scope. Barb began her unit by basing these lessons on children’s picture books, like Remember That by Leslea Newman or Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco, which highlight the importance that intergenerational relationships have on shared, community-based knowledge.
From here, the students were paired with a more elderly ‘special friend’ (ensuring that there is at least a two-generation gap between them) over the course of a meet-and-greet session at the Thompson Senior Center. Their special friend became their ethnographic subject, offering the students the opportunity to conduct formal interviews to learn more about how life was in the past. In addition, each participant shared meaningful experiences from their own lives through the medium of a ‘Memory Museum’, a veritable ‘Show-and-Tell’ with an historical slant.
Following this experience, the 2nd grade students were asked to reflect on their experiences meeting their ‘special friends’ to both further employ ethnographic skills by interviewing each other on film and also cement the importance of the intergenerational relationship that formed over the course of the meet-and-greet session. However, before conducting the interview, students were taught the basics of interview techniques and documentary film cinematography. Some of the questions explored in this session were: Why do we conduct interviews? Why is it important to share information that we learn? What are some of the tools available to present information? How do we frame a shot?
The students were paired up with each other – one student was the interviewee while the other was the interviewer. Then the roles were reversed.
Simultaneously, the students integrated their learning in art class with art teacher, Lisa Kaija. By creating mixed-media collages inspired by their relationship with their special friend, the students were able to artistically visualize and reflect on their experience.