Arizona High School Students Forge Special Bonds With Seniors Through Storytelling

Published: Tuesday, December 22, 2015 - 4:24pm
Updated: Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - 8:23am
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(Photo by Phil Latzman - KJZZ News)
Fountain Hills High School student Megan Donnelly tells the story of Russ and Joan Larson, who have been married for 74 years.

As Christmas approaches many Valley seniors find themselves alone and detached, but at one local high school students are pairing up with seniors to tell their stories and link the generations in a unique learning experience.

It is the Storied Lives Project.

At Fountain Hills High School, Emerson O’Neill, 17, is sharing a story, but it’s not hers. O’Neill is reciting a story as told to her by 94-year-old Phyllis Smart, who sits beside her teen partner listening and smiling.

Simon Edwards tells the adventurous tale of Walter Martin, whose journey began in Germany 89 years ago.

Megan Donnelly details the art, architecture and love that has carried Russ Larson and his wife, Joan, through 74 years of marriage.

They are part of a group of 15 students paired with senior companions as part of a school project called Storied Lives. The groups have met over the course of the semester to cultivate their stories. AP English teacher Dawn Oester has set it at the core of her curriculum for her class. Oester said the project is mutually beneficial to match two age groups that normally wouldn’t spend much quality time together.

Fountain Hills is believed to be the first high school west of the Mississippi to implement Storied Lives into the curriculum. With the community around the school in the far north Phoenix suburb aging, school principal Tom Brennan said the program makes perfect sense. The idea to bring Storied Lives to the school came from nearby resident Patti Milligan.

In telling the story of the 74-year marriage of Russ and Joan Larson, student Megan Donnelly said she wasn’t sure what she was getting into, but said she found it easier than expected. For 94-year-old Joan and 102-year-old Russ, married before Pearl Harbor, the time has flown by blissfully. They’re grateful for the opportunity to have somebody to share their happy story with.

For Milligan, that’s what makes it all worth it. She hopes she can help bring to the Storied Lives Project to every high school in the Valley.

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