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Tri-State students benefit from senior wisdom, experiences

October 14, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Tri-State area teachers occasionally invite senior citizens to speak to students about their life experiences, whether it's life during the Great Depression or surviving as a prisoner of war.

Neither Washington County, Berkeley County, W.Va., nor Chambersburg (Pa.) Area School District have formal programs for this, officials said. It's left up to teachers, who know senior citizens with interesting experiences to share, to decide if they can fit it into lesson plans, educators said.

South Hagerstown High School teacher John Priest said he had a World War II prisoner of war and at least one person who had survived the Bataan Death March speak to his students about 15 years ago. During World War II, less than 1,500 of 12,000 Americans who surrendered in the Philippines were still alive at the end of the war, he said.

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It's difficult to have guest speakers now because the curriculum requires a tight schedule, Priest said.

Anytime someone can tell their life experiences to students firsthand is invaluable, Priest said.

"Anytime when a person shares their experience with the class it gives meaning and understanding" to what students are being taught, said Jim Newkirk, elementary reading, language arts and social studies supervisor for Washington County public schools.

That's what made the re-enactors at the 140th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam in September so great, Newkirk said.

Even though they didn't live in that time period, they had studied it so much they could go in and out of character as they talked to students about what life was like during the Civil War, Newkirk said.

Fred Otto, executive director of the Washington County Commission on Aging, said he has a list of people from various careers and backgrounds that would be good to talk to students. He didn't know if any of them had been called upon to speak to public school students.

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