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Another kind of history lesson

Project - Charter school's 'Tree Swallows' meet with seniors to learn about their history
by: Chase Allgood, Forest Grove Community School teacher Rachel Weil and her students visit with Jennings McCall Center resident Jerry Reed (back to camera), 81, during a field trip last week.

With her fingers flying across the keyboard and children marching around her in a circle, pianist Dorothy Worrall smiled broadly.

'I'm acting like a kid today,' she declared, banging out patriotic favorites like 'This Land is Your Land' and 'I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy.'

As she got ready to close the impromptu concert at Forest Grove Jennings McCall Center last Thursday, Worrall, a resident there, took the fervor down a notch.

In a kind of tribute to newly formed connections with a group of first-, second- and third-graders from the Forest Grove Community School, Worrall played a more subdued song: 'Make New Friends, But Keep the Old.'

The children, still marching, sang along.

Everyone had lunched together in the Jennings McCall dining room before the music session started. While residents finished up their food, teacher Rachel Weil read the children a story.

After that, the young, the old and the in-between broke into small groups and got down to business.

'We're doing an oral history and community service project that involves researching our own heritage and having a dialogue with people from another generation,' explained Gretchen Ziemer, the 'Out and About' teacher at FGCS.

Seven residents from the Forest Grove retirement center volunteered to meet with students and sit for interviews sometime this month.

Teri Melof, a student in Pacific University's graduate teaching program, came up with the concept for her final project.

'I had to create a unit of study for my students,' said Melof, who has been a teaching assistant for the 'Tree Swallows' mixed-age classroom this year.

'We were talking about history, and we found out the kids didn't really know much about their family members' pasts,' she noted.

Melof hopes the students will hone their intergenerational social skills and gain a historical perspective that 'gives them an idea how things are different nowadays and how they've stayed the same.'

The students were asked to write formal interview questions for their senior buddies at Jennings McCall. Groups of three students will videotape the residents talking about their memories.

Each resident will eventually receive a DVD of the interview to keep.

Enjoys children

Verne Kelsey, 75, who moved to Forest Grove from east Portland two years ago, volunteered for the project because he enjoys children.

'I used to read with kids in the Start Making A Reader Today program,' said Kelsey, who chatted with students Tapper Pierce, J.R. Dixon and Dylan Anderson at a long table.

He said he got a kick out of the students' curiosity.

'Tapper here asked me if I flew airplanes,' Kelsey said. 'I told him I was in the Air Force, but I didn't fly planes.'

For his part, Tapper said that so far, he'd learned his family was of German descent.

Shirley Meyerhoff, 77, said she signed up for the project because 'it sounded like fun.'

Besides, she added, 'I like little ones and my great-grandkids live in Washington, so I can't see them that much.'

Surrounded by students Gage Boyer, Ian Del Arroyo and Josy Tecum-Folsum, Meyerhoff told tales of her girlhood in southern Illinois.

'I went to visit my grandma on the farm every summer,' she said. 'I want to tell them about that.'

Questions and kisses

Helen Thias and Kieranna Bartholomew, both third-graders, planned to ask their assigned residents, Evelyn Salzwedel and Carolyn Alexander, about their favorite foods, their favorite colors and whether they had pets while they were growing up.

'We brought Hershey Kisses in for our residents,' Helen said with a smile.

Students also will interview their own grandparents about what life was like when they were young, Ziemer noted.

Caring wrap-up

After Spring Break, students plan to return to Jennings McCall to plant flowers outside with the residents. Teachers think it'll be a caring way to wrap up the project.

'It's been great to see the students' response to the residents,' said Melof, whose own history includes reading 'way too many' Nancy Drew novels.

'When we were leaving after the first time we were here, they were already asking when they could come back.'