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ESSAY CONTEST: STUDENTS LEARN BY LISTENING TO LIFE STORIES
The Legacy Project, 2/23/2011

Editor's Note from Susan Richman: One of my very favorite projects that my AP US History online students do each year is a History Interview. They find someone who's older-- often a grandparent, or an elderly neighbor or friend-- and ask them about some key historical events they remember. Many chose to interview a veteran-- this year I even had a student complete a professional level video interview of a man who survived the Bataan Death March during World War II. One of the sweetest parts of the project is how close my students feel to these special older people after their interviews-- and there have even been sad times when the grandfather interviewed about his time serving our nation overseas during World War II died before the end of the school year. These students then felt a particular level of gratitude that they had made the time to really talk with their grandparent, hearing stories they'd never known before, and feeling a new bond. Knowing the power of this type of exchange, I was delighted to find out about this national essay contest-- I hope many homeschoolers will enter. With any contest, my core criteria for deciding whether or not it would be 'worth it' to enter, is to decide if the activity the contest involved was inherently worthwhile-- without any outside prizes involved. And that is definitely the case with this contest, open to student ages 8 to 18. And my guess is that many students will end up writing two essays, instead of just one-- one that's just 300-words long, to fit the criteria of this contest, and a second that is quite a bit longer, to really bring out all that was learned through the interview.  

The Legacy Project is running its 11th annual Listen to a Life
Essay Contest.
The biggest reward for students -- like last
year's Grand Prize winner 10-year-old Vann Barnette -- is what
they learn about themselves, their family, and even history when
they listen to the life stories of a grandparent or grandfriend.
The national contest, run in partnership with Generations United
in Washington, DC, receives thousands of entries from across the
country. Barnette won last year's Grand Prize of a Lenovo
ThinkCentre computer for himself and $25,000 of Orchard
educational software for his school. This year's contest is open
to students 8-18 years of age.

Barnette, a grade 4 student at Strawberry Hill Elementary School
in Anamosa, IA, learned about a pivotal moment in his maternal
grandfather's life when he interviewed Gerald Udell, 74. He
starts his essay by writing, "My Grandpa has done a lot of things
such as getting a PhD and testifying in front of members of
congress. Despite these accomplishments, the proudest moment of
his life is when he made an old man cry."

He goes on to tell the story of his grandfather's experience in
the South when he enlisted in the army. His buddy was directed to
a "Blacks Only" area. Barnette's grandfather was directed to the
"Whites Only" area, but wanted to sit with his friend and stood
up for his convictions.

"It wasn't long before a white policeman was standing in the
doorway," writes Barnette. "But Grandpa said if there is no law
against him sitting in the 'Black' section, he wished to stay
with his friend."

The story concludes with a touching exchange with an elderly
Black man who witnessed what the young soldier had done.

"Vann's essay was well-written and had an emotional quality that
captured the attention of the judges," says Legacy Project Chair
Susan Bosak. "We received so many stories -- lighthearted stories
about advice from grandmothers to their granddaughters about
boys, heart-wrenching stories about experiences during the
Holocaust and the Communist Revolution in China, and heartwarming
stories about the enduring love of grandparents caring for an
ailing spouse. So many lives, so many stories."

To enter the Listen to a Life Contest, young people 8-18 years
interview a grandparent or grandfriend 50 years or older about
the older person's hopes and goals through their life, how they
achieved their goals and overcame obstacles, or key life
experiences. The young person then writes a 300-word essay based
on the interview.

The Grand Prize is a Lenovo ThinkCentre computer with $800 of
educational software from Orchard Software. The school of the
winning young person also receives $25,000 of Orchard educational
software. Twenty runner-up prizes include $400 of Orchard
software and an MP3 player.

Entrants in the contest span from Los Angeles to New York. The
oldest person interviewed last year was 101 years old, while the
youngest entrants were 8 years old.

Many young entrants commented how surprised they were by what
they learned. Says 13-year-old Kyle Macdowell from Arlington, TX,
"I see my grandma a lot, but not until this contest did I really
realize who she is. I never knew about her background or what
struggles she has had."

And many teachers commented how positive the experience was for
families. Says Lori Halbison a teacher in Higley, AZ, "I can't
tell you how many thank you's I received from parents just
because they learned more about the grandparent interviewed and
it was valuable for the whole family."

Mary Ann Richter, a teacher with Hamilton City Schools in Ohio,
says, "Students set out to learn from the past by interviewing a
senior in their community. The results were fantastic,
informative stories. It was a great learning experience for
senior and student."

This year's Listen to a Life Essay Contest runs to March 31.

For complete contest details, previous winning essays, and free
online activity ideas, visit www.legacyproject.org.


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