Her and 19 other second graders from Kentwood-based Legacy Christian School traveled in January to Holland Home's Breton Woods campus to interview senior residents about their achievements and what the Lord has done for them through the years.
Then on May 11, the students returned to Breton Woods and were matched again with the same residents they interviewed in January to read to them the handwritten memoirs they composed. Their stories were bound into a book.
The students also sang as group to the residents and enjoyed an ice cream social with one another afterward.
The partnership between the school and Holland Home observes Older Americans Month, commemorated every May. This year's theme is Engage at Every Age, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Community Living.
Facing challenges head on
Amelia's senior partner was MaryLou Myers, a Holland Home resident for five years. Amelia learned while interviewing Myers she willingly worked at a male dominated job at a time when it wasn't common for women to do so, facing challenges head on.
After graduating from Aquinas College where she studied math and physics, Myers wrote computer code for 53 years at Lear Siegler, among other companies.
"I ran into a lot of harassment on the job, being a woman in a man's field, and every time I changed jobs I had to fight that all over again," said Myers. "I learned not to overreact to criticism and harassment, let it roll off and pursue what you want. Now you can do anything you want to do; they let girls go anywhere. Sometimes you've got to fight a little."
Do something big
Amelia took Myers' life lessons to heart.
"I learned what she was talking about is: Don't be afraid to step out and do something big," said Amelia, age 8. "She stepped up and went to college. I enjoyed writing down her story. I mean, it's fun to hear her story."
Reaching beyond the walls
Besides having fun, honing students' writing skills, learning what it takes to interview people and giving the residents an opportunity to focus on the legacy of Christ in their lives were key components to the assignment, said second grade teacher Kate Wierenga.
"This year, I've really been challenged to think about how we can ... reach beyond the walls of our classroom," said Wierenga. "So one of the things you have to do in second grade is write a story. We can write our own stories or we can get into the community and sit down with people who don't always get to share their stories. And I thought I bet these people have stories that need to be told, and let's write them down.
"Part of the purpose of coming to Holland Home is we wanted to hear faith stories as well."
As Wierenga suspected, her students were spurred with a rich vein of insight.
"After doing this project we know second graders can do really powerful things and they are learning these skills for a reason," she said. "It's interesting what they (residents) chose to tell these second graders. Find Jesus in your story and tell about that. Focus on the joy and legacy of Christ in your family."
Students hand wrote their notes while interviewing residents, but a backup method was also used.
"We also recorded them on an iPad," said Wierenga. "That way anything they missed in person, they could go back and listen for details they missed the first time."
"Before it was pretty hard for a second grader to sit down and edit a story but not with this project because they have a purpose," said Wierenga. "So getting them to sit down to fix their stories was no problem because they wanted to do it."
Next year, Wierenga has her eye on establishing a pen pal exchange as well, albeit it may not be with the same Holland Home residents.
"We're going to try to develop more of a relationship and have pen pals through the year," she said.
But for the moment, what Patty Alexander appreciated was the delight that beamed on Holland Home residents' faces.
"If you look at all the tables and the interaction right now, there's just so much joy," said Alexander, life enrichment coordinator for independent living at Breton Woods. "When you have a Christian school and Christian community here, they're learning how Christ has been in their lives."
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