Hawkins County eighth-graders gather life stories of senior adults, publish in book

HAWKINS COUNTY, TN (WJHL)- A group of local senior adults now have their life stories published in a book thanks to a group of eighth grade students at Surgoinsville Middle School.

Back in March, a group 23 eighth grade students with a lifetime ahead of them, got to sit down and soak up the life stories of people with decades behind them.

“I couldn’t wait to go talk to these people to see what stories they had to share with us,” Surgoinsville Middle School eighth grade student Jacob Haynes said.

They each got to interview one person living at Church Hill Health Care Center. They gathered their life stories, and have now published them in a book.

“I got to talk to a World War II veteran, Mr. McConnell, and it was just absolutely amazing to hear all the stories that he had,” Haynes said. “He had the medals that he received, his medals and his insignias and he had three medals and all of them were of very high honor.”

Haynes said the story he heard, one of a solider courageously fighting on D-Day, is one he will carry with him for the rest of his life.

“Definitely the bravery that he had…he actually went into the front lines and broke through the front lines and that takes tremendous amounts of courage and bravery,” Haynes said.

“He received a Purple Heart and the silver star and a combat medal and he has those in a display there and he’s very proud of his service and I wanted the kids to see that pride,” Surgoinsville Middle School Language Arts teacher Angelia Hensley said.

Hensley said it’s a project that made connections and bonds across generational lines.

“It’s very eye-opening to see some of the struggles they faced and how different their lives were from lives today,” Eighth grade student Ava Beggs said.

Through her interview, the history lessons she’s learned about women’s rights issues came to life. “She had only went through the eighth grade which kind of surprised me…she had worked at the same place at the same position for her entire life,” Beggs said.

“Some of the girls realized that some of them in there couldn’t vote and it boggled their mind to actually talk to somebody,” Hensley said.

Hensley and Surgoinsville Middle School History teacher Cody Saucemen came up with the idea for the project, and got a $1,200 grant from an organization called Utrust to make it possible. In a letter, Utrust said it suspects this project will make more difference than any project it has ever funded and it is one of the most creative projects they’ve seen.

“I had one student tell me that he was wanting to go back up there and play checkers with the one he interviewed and I thought well that says it all,” Hensley said.

She said it’s helped her students learn the connection between their generation and the Greatest Generation.

“I don’t think they see the connection as well because of media and technology and video games and that kind of thing. There is nothing better than a primary source as a teacher that’s all we’re after,” Hensley said.

“Especially since times are changing so much it’s really good to see the perspective of the elders and see how they lived their lives compared to our lives,” Haynes said.

Now their stories are bound together in a book called “Long Before Us.” The cover, drawn by one of the students, shows the residents’ names on the roots of a tree with the leaves bearing the students’ names.

Just a few days ago, the students got to present the published books to their friends at the Church Hill Health Care Center.

Copyright 2017 WJHL. All Rights Reserved.

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