V. Action

Based upon new partnerships, student interest and voice, we began the action phase of this service project, which included intensive preparation and implementation of an interview protocol to collect the personal stories of individuals affected by war.

Check out the day-by-day class schedule.

Week 1
The first week of the second quarter we reintroduced the topic, by getting back to writing, thinking about and discussing this tough issue. We began by thinking about differences by reading the book Echos of Brown and watching the spoken word performances of students who had compiled their stories about race and education. Read more about this project at (http://web.gc.cuny.edu/che/projectmf.htm). This text helped to reacquaint students with our historical experiences of conflict between people with differences. Students then wrote and shared their own poetry inspired by this text.

Next, we introduced students to the essential question, “How does war affect humanity?” through a silent Chalk Talk (http://www.nsrfharmony.org/protocol/doc/chalk_talk.pdf). This method of communication works well for students who might feel insecure about voicing their thoughts verbally.

Week 2
We began our more intensive interview practice and protocols during this week. We re-introduced students to the on-line Veterans History Project (VHP) (http://www.loc.gov/vets/) in preparation for conducting oral history interviews with peace activists, war veterans and refugees impacted by war and violence.

To give students a sense of what they might be hearing in the interviews they would later conduct, we asked them to watch excerpts from four interviews on the VHP website and write a brief biographical narrative on each, following a specific template. We might have bitten off more than we could chew with that assignment, as many students found it difficult to listen to, take notes on, and summarize four interviews in the allotted time. However, it did serve to pique their interest in speaking with veterans’ in-person and give them the opportunity to practice narrative writing as evidenced by the student work (Sample Student Work 1, 2).

To ensure a good number of potential interviewees, we put an advertisement on (www.craigslist.com) asking if there were any veterans interested in working on a student project in conjunction with the Veteran’s History Project (VHP). We were contacted by a US Navy Vietnam Veteran who also serves as the leader of the local Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) the Gresham Post the next day. Tyler Marriott told us that he had conducted interviews with veterans for the Veterans History Project and was willing to share his own experience in Vietnam, in addition to offering tips to prepare students for facilitating effective interviews. Prior to his visit, we introduced the tools offered on the VHP website, including a Field Kit (http://www.loc.gov/vets/kitmenu.html) for conducting and preserving interviews. Week two closed with our first in-person interview and information session with Tyler.

Week 3
Although our focus to this point was on veterans, we needed to broaden the conversation to include those affected less directly by war, peace activists and refugees. We utilized a book series entitled In Their Own Voices: Teenage Refugees Speak Out. These books offer the perspective of young people who have come to America as refugees, many from war-torn areas. We asked students to read two of the stories from countries of their choice, and write a biographical summary (Refugee Stories Assignment, Sample Student Work)based upon what they read. Our goal for this activity was to familiarize students with the experiences of refugees so that when they conducted in-person interviews they had a frame of reference.

The end of week three marked a turning point in this project. All of the scaffolding we had done as a class led us to this moment and we were ready to begin conducting and recording interviews. As the teachers, this was a time-intensive venture that involved some creative recruiting and networking.

As mentioned above, we used craigslist, an on-line activist community, personal contacts, and local organizations serving refugees. More information about each community partner can be found in the Community Partners section. Despite our initial anxiety about having enough community members who could visit our school for an extensive interview, we found that people were eager to get involved. Once the floodgates opened we ended up with far more people than could be handled easily.

Weeks 4-6
During the next three weeks the students conducted interviews with veterans, refugees and peace activists. We had to modify our interview schedule to accommodate the increased numbers and our time with community members bled into students’ other classes. Sometimes we would have three interviews going on at the same time, with different interview teams spread around the school. Those teams were responsible for utilizing the VHP interview guide for speaking with veterans, and we hosted all-class interviews led by individual students for peace activists and refugees.

We coached students on how to help the interviewees tell their stories using broad, open-ended questions to open the conversations and allowing individuals the freedom to share as they wanted.

When we weren’t interviewing, we were debriefing. In between the interviews we would reassemble the class, debrief their experience, and reassess their questions and method of leading the conversations. This process was largely informal. Creating a review protocol to make the learning process more explicit for students would be helpful. This would help to improve their interviewing strategies, articulate their own learning, and transfer the skills to another context.

At this point, Write Around Portland (Partnership with Write Around Portland), a local non-profit that facilitates writing workshops with disadvantaged communities, came on board. We soon realized that the level of intensity during the hectic interview process made it necessary for us to devote class time to allow students to share their experience as empathizers and observers.

Many of the stories they heard were incredibly moving, traumatic and graphic. Several community members became teary, others angry, and some even required a break in middle of the interview to collect themselves. The emotional impact their actions and words had on students was powerful. The students needed an outlet to help process their own emotional response and we did not want them to lose their own thoughts in the stories of others. The weekly writing workshop facilitated by Write Around Portland became the sacred and rejuvenating activity of the week. During this time students engaged in free-writes with prompts related to the class topic and their experiences with interviews. By the time the Friday writer’s workshop came around students were ready to write, to process their thoughts; in fact, they were begging for the chance to express themselves. Students selected pieces from their writing and a final reflection to include in the anthology.

Weeks 7-8
The next two weeks of class were devoted to wrapping things up. This included downloading the interviews, and transcribing hours and hours of video. Although the initial plan was not direct transcription, but summary narrative, the students felt very strongly that the authenticity of the interviewees’ words would become muddled if altered and they wanted to preserve the essence of their stories.

As a class, we decided to transcribe the interviews verbatim. We had no idea what this would actually mean. After a brief lesson in transcription, every student in the class spent every day during week seven and eight transcribing, and each evening we (the teachers) spent more hours doing the same. It was a monumental task, and in retrospect, unreasonable in the timeframe we had allowed. Since then, we have explored transcription computer programs, and talked about the feasibility of paying a professional transcriptionist, if verbatim is necessary.

During week eight, a few students worked together and designed the cover, and we collectively chose a title for the book, a creative play on words: Veterans of War and Peace.

After the close of week seven, we took all of the students to Camp Myrtlewood (http://campmyrtlewood.org/), a peace camp in Myrtle Point, Oregon, for the Memorial Day Weekend of Service. This special trip served a dual purpose; the leaders of the camp were active peace activists who were conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War and participated in diplomatic peace efforts in Ireland and Sudan. Not only would students have the opportunity to spend a weekend in service and retreat, but they also conducted their final interview.

With this event came a sense of celebration and purpose. Students deepened their connection to one another, and to examining the topics of violence and war. Since our trip to Camp Myrtlewood, the students have not stopped talking about when they could return. Camp Myrtlewood Photo Collage ((Artifact #39))) let’s insert this in the text

During the weekend after week eight, the teacher who had experience with desktop publishing compiled the transcribed interviews and student writing into a book that was due at the publishers on Monday in order to be ready for the final exhibition. Again, we felt the intense time constraint during the last half of the second quarter; we had simply planned too much for the time and not partnered with any technology experts to provide transcription and desktop publishing. Our suggestion for another project of this magnitude would be to do so.

Week 9
This week was devoted to preparing for the final event. Invitations; were sent out and a program created. As we waited for the publishers to put the book together, students were busily selecting excerpts from their interviews to read aloud at our exhibition event, held at the local coffee shop (http://parkplacecoffee.com/), and titled for the name of our class. The students practiced reading and we had a rehearsal ‘speak out’ at the coffee shop to familiarize students with the environment. The books were delivered by the publisher to the coffee shop a few hours before the event, leaving students just enough time to set-up a sales table. They had decided to sell the books and donate the proceeds to Africa House (http://www.irco.org), a partner organization that provides services to refugees.

Week 10
This week marked the end of the quarter and we only had two days with students. One student wrote an article about the class to accompany photos of the event for the school newsletter. Other students were interviewed by the local print media and their project was featured in the Oregonian and the Gresham Outlook. (http://www.theoutlookonline.com/features/story.php?story_id=118171302307101700) On the last day students wrote a final reflection for the class and celebrated their success! We all took a deep breath and let out a sigh … the intense schedule, hard work, and commitment had paid off!

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