Taylor Middle Students Collect Oral Histories at Local Memory Care Facilities, as seen in Fauquier Times

This article originally appeared in the Fauquier Times

Marilynn Beck, 66, resident at Poet’s Walk assisted living in Warrenton, is interviewed by Taylor Middle School 8th-graders: Robert Maldonado, 14; Brendon O’Hara, 14,Bradley Gallagher, 14; and Thanuwat Kraiwan, 13.


Marilynn Beck, 66, sat at a table at Poet’s Walk last week as four young men took turns asking her questions about her life.

Poet’s Walk, at 33 Woodlands Way in Warrenton, is an assisted living facility for elders with dementia. Beck was one of 12 residents who had made themselves available over a two-day period to be interviewed by the Taylor Middle School 8th graders — all 168 of them. Students clustered — four students to one resident — at tables and sofas throughout the facility’s clubby-looking lounge.

Beck wanted to know, “You boys look like smart kids. Do you get good grades?”

Robert Maldonado, 14; Bradley Gallagher, 14; Brendon O’Hara, 14; and Thanuwat Kraiwan, 13, were at Marilynn Beck’s table with their recording gear. Kraiwan took the lead. “I need to clip this microphone on,” he said, gently attaching a Lavalier to her collar. But the little microphone wouldn’t stay clipped, so he held it, mid-table.

“Where were you born, and where did you grow up,” Gallagher asked, reading from a laptop screen.

“I was born in Charlestown, West Virginia,” Beck said. “I had five sisters and one brother. We were very hard on our brother.” The boys smiled and nodded.

The group was using an app called StoryCorps, a program that helps to “record and preserve the stories all around you.” If desired, finished recordings go directly to the Library of Congress, which is collecting an “archive of the wisdom of humanity.”  These 8th-graders intend to edit the material and send it to the library for posterity. They will also deliver a keepsake copy to each senior participant.

“The goal was to make a permanent recording so the families of the residents would always have the story of their family member, and to record the story for the world to know that these people matter…that every life matters,” Taylor Middle School English Department Chair, Cathleen Beachboard, said the next day. Beachboard, 36, is a 13-year veteran teacher; she has been at Taylor for two years.

“We have a focus on service-learning at Taylor,” the teacher explained. I let my students choose community problems they want to tackle, and they chose [the fact] that the older generations seem to get isolated and forgotten.”

Beachboard said the class wanted to focus on how much can be learned from elder generations. “Students wanted to increase the quality of life for the residents by being joyful visitors. Once they started volunteering, they discovered that their senior citizens with dementia and Alzheimer’s are losing their memory. The kids knew they could not stop the progression of the disease but they could give the residents a permanent recording of their memories.”

Be still my heart

“What are some of the great things you have done in your life?” One of the boys had asked Beck. She was laughing. “Well, I didn’t do anything that great,” she said.

“What did you do around the house?” another asked.

“Oh there was lots to do. The grass, babysitting. We had a dog and a goat. We didn’t like the goat much. We did whatever we were asked to do. And there was no fussing about it.”

“How many children do you have?“ Beck was asked. “Uh, three, and seven, and um… We were five girls and one boy. And, did we give our brother trouble.” The boys didn’t miss a beat. They smiled. They nodded.

When the boys had run out of questions, Beck returned the favor. “What subjects are you into?”

“I like geography and math,” one answered.

“I like math, science and technology,” another replied.

“Oh, you have all the bases covered,” Beck replied. “In my day, we didn’t have all the choices you have.”

“Always listen to your parents, because they have your best interests at heart,” Beck said.

“Everything they do is for us,” Kraiwan said.

“Exactly,” Beck said.

“My children are all grown up now,” Beck went on. “One has started a family. But you boys, don’t do that too soon,” Beck admonished.

“That’s expensive,” one of them said.

“Yes, it is,” replied Beck.