Seniors document lives of seniors

Deborah Prescott | Daily Press Escanaba High School seniors Nick Ramos and Maddie Dix read Betty Fudela her biography at North Woods Place recently. Escanaba High School English teacher Tammy Wiles started a project three years ago, called “Seniors to Seniors History Project.” The project brings senior citizens and high school seniors together. Students learn about the residents, then write their biography.

ESCANABA — North Woods Place became a place of reminiscing Tuesday as senior students from Escanaba High School read to resident senior citizens. The reading material, however, was far from ordinary.

Escanaba HIgh School seniors recently interviewed senior citizens at North Woods Place. The result was a biography detailing the lives of the senior citizens written by the high school students. The project called “Seniors to Seniors History Project,” is an effort started by Tammy Wiles, English and Language Arts teacher at the high school. Just over 120 students met with North Woods Place Senior Living residents and other local senior citizens to document their life stories.

The idea came to Wiles from a novel she read by Allen Eskens, “The Life We Bury.” In the novel, a university student receives an assignment to write a biography on someone who has lived an interesting life. The character interviews a nursing home resident who agrees to the interview. Wiles knew of someone working at North Woods Place at the time and asked if any of the residents would be interested in being interviewed by senior students in her class.

Pat D’Arcy is one of the residents from North Woods Place that participated in the project. D’Arcy was a teacher herself and understands how much time and effort it takes to do extra projects for students.

“I love doing it, and last year, too,” D’Arcy said.

This year D’Arcy had three students interview her — Kylee Johnson, Gavin LaMarche and Haillie McDonough.

“The kids are great, we exchange ideas and I love interacting with them,” said D’Arcy. “They are really looking into their future and know what they are going to do after school. One is going into the Marines and has done his homework about it. The two girls are going into the medical field, and are throughly committed. The school is doing good by preparing them for the future,” D’Arcy said.

Since the project started, students have interviewed residents of the North Woods Place Senior Living community. This year, there were more senior citizens needed for the project, so Wiles asked friends, neighbors and retired school employees for help. Local senior citizens volunteered their time and met with the students in Wiles’ classroom.

Stevie Severson is another senior citizen living at North Woods that participated in the project. She has enjoyed each interview she has had with the Escanaba students the past three years, and hopes they will come to her every year to participate.

“I like it real well and think we should have it every year,” said Severson.

This year, she had four senior boys interview her. Severson is a Marine, the first lady Marine from Michigan, and so she had a lot of advice to give to the boys headed into the military.

“They were all nice and gentlemanly,” Severson said. “They’re the future of our country, and all sports-minded.”

Wiles involved other high school teachers, Lauren Bishop and Mary DeMerse, so all senior students could participate in the project.

North Woods residents were very happy to meet with the students.

“The residents have commented on how nice it is to have young visitors and have them interested in their lives,” said Wiles. “It gives them something to look forward to. They also have commented on how much they enjoy listening to all the biographies and learning more about their fellow residents at North Woods.”

The project benefits the high school students as well. The students find more respect for the elderly and value their time with them.

“I was hesitant at first, but Lila made us feel warmly welcomed in the home,” said senior student Lexi Chaillier. “It was very interesting to learn so many new things about someone from a different a decade.”

This project gives students the opportunity to have face to face conversations with people they don’t know and use communication skills instead of texting or other forms of social media.

“Interviewing the North Woods residents, especially Betty’s personality, helped me ease up and gain confidence when I’m talking to someone new,” said student Tyler McDonald.

“My conversation skills improved and I am grateful to be given the opportunity to learn more about Adeline,” said student Georgia Lehto.

“Escanaba high school seniors benefit in many aspects,” said Wiles. “They get the opportunity to become involved with the community,…it provides them with the experience of an authentic writing opportunity where they are practicing their writing skills to honor someone new they have met.”

“I am very thankful to have met Betty,” said Kaitlyn Lord. “Every visit felt like we didn’t have enough time. Betty was so easy to talk to.”

Melissa Bonifas-Ness, an agent of Meemic Insurance, provided a monetary donation for any project expenses.

“Melissa Bonifas-Ness made a generous monetary donation to the project which allowed the students to purchase gifts for their residents this year,” noted Wiles. “The students were excited to surprise their residents.”