London

What happens when high school students write the life stories of seniors

A group of residents at a London retirement home will be presented with the biographies of their lives this week.

St. André Bessette students teamed up with Oakcrossing Retirement Living to craft the biographies of residents

Edith Keating shares stories from her childhood to current day. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

A group of residents at a London retirement home will be presented with their biographies this week.

For the past month, grade 12 students in the writers craft class at St. André Bessette Secondary School have been finding out everything they can about some of the seniors who live at Oakcrossing Retirement Living.

The 21 students were each matched with a resident. The senior talked while the student listened, usually over a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.

The students had to condense a few hours of face time with the seniors, along with and countless questions and answers, into the written biographies.

Grade 12 student Lucinda Gilbert from St. André Bessette Secondary School asks Joe DeCourcy, who's turning 90 this month, about life, love and loss. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)
 

The cross-generational conversations covered stories of challenge and accomplishment, spanning decades.

Lucinda meets Joe

Lucinda Gilbert is 17 years old. She glanced down at her phone, where she had a list of questions for Joe DeCourcy, who's turning 90 in December.

Gilbert came prepared with a list of questions for her subject. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

She gets a sense of his life story, but also asks poignant questions about family, love and loss.

"What does the word family mean to you?" is one of the first questions Gilbert asks DeCourcy, during their second session together.

"It means everything," said DeCourcy.

Joe DeCourcy is one of 21 residents at Oakcrossing Retirement Living who's telling their life stories so a group of high school students can write their biographies. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

"We're taught that when we're young. My girls, they're my guardian angels, and they look after me now."

"Without a family, what have you got?" said DeCourcy.

Anne-Marie and Edith

Student Anne-Marie Rytter has been paired with Edith Keating.

Students spent two two-hour sessions with residents to hear their life stories. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

When asked what she's learned from Keating, Rytter talked about how technology isn't everything.

"Ms. Keating, she lived near the railroad and they had to use one of those wells with the bucket and rope to get the water because they had no hydro back then."

"Nowadays people are like — oh no wifi, how are we going to live?"

They're two women of different generations, but they seem to be conversing like old friends.

"She's one of my fellow human beings," said Keating.