ERAs volunteer Lynn Revoy shares her history with a group of students at Horning Middle School in Waukesha.
May 1, 2018
Written By Meghan Marsden Parsche, United Way Volunteer
Lynn Revoy stunned students at Horning Middle School in Waukesha recently when she explained that her family didn’t have a television in their home until she was in high school. No cable, no Netflix, no video games. The students immediately wanted to know what she did for fun. “We did some of the same things you do today,” she explained. “We read books and we played outside. But instead of watching our favorite shows on TV, we listened to them on the radio.”
There are some things about history that you won’t learn in textbooks, as these lucky middle schoolers are discovering thanks to an intergenerational program called Story Corps through United Way program partner ERAs Senior Network. Story Coprs pairs groups of middle school students with senior mentors for open-ended conversations where the mentors can talk about themselves and students can ask questions. The end goal is for students to complete a project that showcases their mentor’s story.
The Story Corps program was established at Horning Middle School this year thanks to a grant through the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County’s Helping Kids Succeed initiative, which aims to support educators, increase student achievement, and enhance family stability and empowerment in Waukesha public schools.
According to Brianna Mormann and Meredith Sweeney, Humanities teachers at Horning Middle School (a blended social studies and literacy class), not only does the Story Corps experience open students’ eyes to different perspectives, experiences, and ways of living, it adds complexity and depth to their education by exposing them to new ways of thinking and communicating.
“It expands their understanding of the world and the people in it,” explains Meredith. “We think that it has broken down stereotypes and walls between generations.”
Lynn agrees. “I was an instructor at WCTC for years, and I never thought I would enjoy working with middle schoolers,” she says. “But my experience has taught me that they are delightful. They’re respectful and full of life.”
As a mentor, Lynn has been asked about everything from life without cell phones (“The concept of a party line where you had to wait your turn to make a call or listen for your household’s special ring was unbelievable to them,” she says) to living through wars. One of Lynn’s uncles served at Pearl Harbor, and two others were at the Normandy landing during World War II. The students have been fascinated by her memories and perspective of that time.
“The students enjoy hearing others’ stories, seeing how their experiences shaped them, and sharing their mentor’s story with their peers,” says Brianna. “It’s extremely valuable for them to be able to see a real world connection to historical events, all while building communication skills.”
The Story Corps program has resulted in many lasting connections and treasured experiences. For example, one student group created an entire scrapbook for their mentor about her life using pictures that she shared with them. Another mentor brought in his chess game and taught several students how to play. “He had a small crowd around him because so many kids were interested in it,” says Brianna. She added that many mentors have checked in with students they worked with previously, and students have requested email addresses to stay in contact with their mentor.
In addition to establishing the Story Corps program at Waukesha’s middle schools, the Helping Kids Succeed grant has allowed ERAs to expand the number of volunteers involved with the RSVP program in Waukesha schools, a pen pal program that pairs seniors with elementary school students. RSVP helps students build writing skills and fosters connections between generations through correspondence. The pen pals write to each other once a month for six months, then meet at the end of the year for a party.
ERAs Senior Network reports that a total of 441 unduplicated volunteers participated in the RSVP program throughout Waukesha County in 2017, and 43 volunteers ranging in age from 52 to 91 have taken part in the Story Corps program.
Learn more about how United Way’s Helping Kids Succeed initiative is taking action to improve outcomes in Waukesha public schools.