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Maplewood Richmond Heights students listen, learn in StoryCorps oral history project

More than 30 More than 30 students from Maplewoofrom Maplewood Richmond Heights High School interviewed their loved ones in late November. Participants Shawn Tucker, Jeda and Doreatha Murphy, Betty Cordia and Nakiah and Cornell Fisher are pictured above.
More than 30 students from Maplewood Richmond Heights High School interviewed loved ones in collaboration with StoryCorps last month. Participants Shawn Tucker, Jéda and Doreatha Murphy, Betty Cordia and Nakiah and Cornell Fisher are pictured above. "

The holiday season is a time when families gather, usually for food and fun.  But in an age of video games, cell phone chats and abbreviated texts, sometimes, thoughtful conversations with elders are missed.

This year, St. Louis Public Radio, in partnership with StoryCorps, invited students from Maplewood Richmond Heights High School to spend some time asking questions of an important person in their lives. And then to just let the other person talk. 

The Great Thanksgiving Listen

This project was part of The Great Thanksgiving Listen, a national program that helps students from middle school through college collect oral history on or near the Thanksgiving weekend.

More than 30 students from Nicole Vinson’s Spanish class participated. 

Vinson said she was excited about introducing the project to her students because she had tried something similar a few years ago, with her own grandfather.

“I had this audio, but I never did anything with it until after he passed away.”  Then, she said, “I was able to play it at the family gathering after his funeral.”

Vinson said she also played the interview for her students, to help them get ready for making recordings of their own.

“I find it valuable for the students to engage with their elders,” she said. "It’s something we don’t do enough.”

Intergenerational conversations

Nakiah Fisher, 14,interviewed her father, Cornell Fisher. She asked him to talk about one of the most important people in his life.

That person, Cornell Fisher said, is his wife — Nakiah's mother — Lisa.

Dawson Cordia, 18, talked with his grandmother Betty Cordia about her high school sweetheart, who later became Dawson’s grandfather. She also offered advice for how to have a successful relationship.

Some of the conversations were even more intimate, where they talked about personal regrets and how they'd like to be remembered. 

Jéda Murphy, 16, talked with her grandmother Doreatha Murphy.

Reilly Tucker, 16, interviewed her father, Shawn Tucker

Kevin Grawer, the school’s principal, said he believes the project was important for the students and their families.

“I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity for our kids to have conversation with different generations of their family that probably would not have happened otherwise,” Grawer said.

“There are lot of things in life we know are good but we don’t make it happen, like these intergenerational talks about relevant topics. I hope [the students] share their stories with not just person they interviewed, but with other members of their families, too."

As participants, the students were able to enter their interviews into the StoryCorps archives at The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, where they can remain, offering a lasting piece of personal history.

You may hear more interviews, in their entirety, by searching for keywords such as KWMU or MaplewoodRichmondHeights at the StoryCorps website.

Follow Linda Lockhart on Twitter: @LLockhart92

Outreach specialist Linda Lockhart has been telling stories for most of her life. A graduate of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, she has worked at several newspapers around the Midwest, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as a reporter, copy editor, make-up editor, night city editor, wire editor, Metro Section editor and editorial writer. She served the St. Louis Beacon as analyst for the Public Insight Network, a product of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media that helps connect journalists with news sources. She continues using the PIN to help inform the news content of St. Louis Public Radio. She is a St. Louis native and lives in Kirkwood.