A Journey through Vietnam, Southern High School’s Maryland Veterans Oral History Project, was recently awarded Four Rivers Heritage Area 2018 Heritage Partnership of the Year.
The program is a partnership between the school and Maryland Humanities, under the leadership of social studies teacher Jennifer Davidson.
Davidson was part of the South County team of school, business and community members that helped develop Southern’s signature program: Design: Preservation and Innovation. Each of the Anne Arundel County’s 12 high schools has a signature program offering students real world experiences, helping them develop the communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity skills necessary for success beyond high school.
Davidson’s work with freshmen students on the Maryland veterans oral history project has helped crystallize what that can mean. From the time the signature program was adopted in 2011, she said she “explored different ideas,” but didn’t really have a concrete plan for incorporating the signature into the classroom.
This project began taking shape in 2015. Davidson was interested in Vietnam veterans; her grandfather was a Vietnam veteran, and she said she was “sorry I missed the opportunity to hear his stories.”
First, she reached out to Barry Lanman, director of the Martha Ross Center for Oral History and adjunct professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Lanman, a former high school teacher, was approached two days earlier by Maryland Humanities about working with high school students on an oral history project.
“When Jennifer called me and proposed the exact same thing, I almost thought I was being pranked,” he said. “The project was a perfect match between the goals of Maryland Humanities and Southern High School.”
Then, Davidson began searching for local veterans.
“It was mostly word of mouth,” he said. “We asked students if they knew any veterans, they asked parents, I posted requests on Facebook, people approached me saying they got my card in church..., and I have literally chased down veterans if they were wearing a hat.”
Each year, the project begins with five in-class training sessions, led by Lanman.
“I’m thrilled we can do actual oral histories of quality,” Lanman said. “Under Mrs. Davidson’s tireless leadership, the students are creating a collection of oral histories that will stand the test of time.”
Students work in teams to complete the interview; each team is assigned a veteran. They each have a job within their teams: executive producer, assistant producer, interviewer, and tech crew, which does the filming and editing.
Each team contacts the veteran and crafts questions targeted to the veteran they interview. The first fall, 21 interviews were conducted.
When the veterans come to the school for the interview, they bring with them documents, medals, scrapbooks, uniforms, and other memorabilia collected.
“That’s the difference between an interview and an oral history,” said Caden Annandale and James Andes, who were on the team that recently conducted the 50th Vietnam oral history.
When students empathize with persons or historical figures from the past, they come to understand the past in a personally meaningful way, said Davidson in a lesson plan she created for the National Endowment for the Humanities website. That plan is designed to help other teachers interested in doing similar projects.
Lanman looks at oral history as an educational methodology. Students assume the role of historian, select topics, interview and create a product. He said oral histories give students a chance to “get their hands dirty in history.”
“It’s an opportunity most won’t get until college,” he said. “They are not just conducting interviews, but in crafting the videos, they are interpreting - creating an historical account from their perspective.”
Sophomores Kyle Chaney and Caden Marshall attended the award ceremony with Davidson. Chaney was the assistant producer on his team last year and spent an additional 45 hours after school, working with the film editor to polish the final product.
This year, he is helping with the freshmen interviewers.
“After spending so much time on the project last year, I feel like an expert,” he said.
At the end of each year, Southern High hosts a community event to share the interviews with the public. Then, the recorded oral histories are housed at the Maryland Archives.
“This project reaches far beyond Southern High School,” said Carol Benson, executive director of the Four River Heritage Area
32nd annual Messiah sing-along
St. James Episcopal Parish, 5757 Solomons Island Road, invites the public to sing the Christmas parts of Handel’s Messiah, followed by a reception hosted by the Women of St James Parish.
A free will offering will benefit the Salvation Army. Singers are asked to bring a dessert. Scores will be available for $10.
For more information, visit www.stjamesothian.com, or call 410-224-2478, or 410-956-6157.
Email south county community news and events to Vicki Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org.