Students from Vermont Commons School created connections with residents of Allenwood in South Burlington.

Community Conversations: Forge Real Connections

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Thursday January 18, 2018

“I’m sad,” said Vermont Commons School (VCS) sixth grader Duncan Mcmurrey as he walked out of Allenwood, a senior community in South Burlington, for the last time. “Bob felt like a grandfather to me and I don’t have any grandfathers left.”

It was a VCS research and service class called “Community Conversations” that brought the 11-year-old and Allenwood resident together. Loosely based on “StoryCorps,” a popular public radio program, the class brought 17 VCS students, grades six through 11, every week during the the fall semester, to Allenwood in South Burlington to sit down and talk, photograph, and film some of the residents. The elders shared their stories, and no small amount of wisdom, which will be archived at the Vermont Folk Life Center in Middlebury.

Initial ice-breaker questions like “have you always lived in Vermont” soon warmed the natural reticence one might have in getting to know a stranger. Very quickly the students learned of the residents’ family situations including who has family nearby, how many grandchildren they have, and, for some, how it felt to lose their spouse. Likewise, the residents came to know what was going on in the students’ lives, their plans for vacation, and their hopes for college.

The residents were equally charmed by the students. During a visit to the school, Allenwood resident Roddy Cleary spoke of her delight at talking with the students.“They are so respectful and well-spoken. I was amazed to have a conversation with Sama, a 10th grader from Burlington, about racism and white fragility! These are the conversations young students should be having!”

During their poignant last visit, the students gave their new friends a gift of matted photos, taken during the visits, accompanied by their most memorable quote.