We all have a place in history, though at the age of 13 or 14, we may not know all of the details. In Middle School at Parker, Grade 8 students get the chance to research and share their family’s story through the Grade 8 Family History Project—a project that has been part of the Parker curriculum for nearly 30 years.
Building on the grade-level themes of self-awareness and community awareness, the primary goals of this interdisciplinary English/social studies project are to build self, community, and global awareness while strengthening academic skills through research and narrative writing. Knowing the stories and histories of their peers, students create a sense of community and a sense of belonging in the Middle School.
Work begins over the summer prior to their eighth-grade year and continues in their English and social studies classes throughout the fall. Final presentations are given in December when students choose to present a scrapbook, photobook, or website to their class.
Essential elements of the project include a genealogical diagram/family tree; personal vignettes/stories that best define their family’s history; a favorite family recipe or story; their family’s immigration or migration story; and an annotated bibliography to show how their research was conducted and gathered.
The Grade 8 English and social studies teachers work together to coordinate curriculum that provides students with the skills they need to do their best research and fact gathering and write their best narratives.
“My favorite part of the family history project is when students bring their projects in for presentations. I love hearing about our students’ diverse families and their special relationships with family members,” says Mary Ong-Dean, Middle School social studies teacher and project team member.
According to the New York Times article “The Stories that Bind Us” by Bruce Feiler, studies have shown that students who have a stronger connection to their family narratives also have a stronger sense of the ebb and flow of personal and historical events; this sense of personal connection makes children more resilient.
Although it may seem these projects were perfectly timed with the holidays, a time when family is the focus of the season, the project serves as the perfect segway to the Grade 8 Discovery Week trips that take place in the spring. By taking a closer look at themselves, students recognize that their ancestors are from around the world which helps develop a greater sense of connection to a global community.