When Cynthia Hillhouse assigned an interview project for her second grade students at St. Mary’s Catholic School, she had no idea the impact it would have on them as well as herself.
The VIP project was created to help reinforce the second grade language arts objectives, especially with regards to the writing process. Some of these goals included learning to gather information from sources, writing for different purposes, and creating written drafts that would be revised and edited. Students were given instructions to choose a Very Important Person to interview, such as a grandparent, neighbor, friend of the family or someone that was important to them. They were encouraged to choose a person that was much older than them to make the project more interesting.
Students pretended to be a newspaper reporter and set up interviews with their VIP via a phone call, Facetime call or in person. Student interviews ranged from a phone call to a grandmother in Florida, to an aunt that lived down the street. Another student visited a great grandfather living in Texas, while another invited their great grandmother over for dinner. “My second graders love to read non-fiction, especially biographies, so this was right up their alley”, said Hillhouse.
Students had a list of assigned interview questions, as well as questions that they created on their own. Some of the questions involved communication and technology. Students discussed the differences in technology with their chosen person and found the drastic changes quite comical. Writing letters and paying for long distance phone calls was quite different than the instant communication and social media connections that are common place today. Another interview question was “What was a big event that took place when you were young?” Answers ranged from World War II, The Vietnam War, the first landing on the moon, breaking the sound barrier, and the shooting of John F. Kennedy, just to name a few.
“It was amazing. It gives me chills to think about it. What they took away from this project was way more than the writing process and learning to edit a paper using correct capitalization and punctuation.” Hillhouse enthuses. “One family reached out to me to thank me because this project allowed them to learn more details and stories about their VIP. Isn’t that cool?”
Another family learned more about a grandparent, who had polio as a child. He had spent most of his second grade year in a hospital away from his family. Stories like this drew on the parallels of what is currently happening now with the pandemic. “When you think of the way the pandemic has separated families and isolated grandparents from their families, this project reminded me, and them, how important the human connection is,” says Hillhouse.
To finish the project, students drew an illustration or portrait to go with their story of their chosen person. In addition, they wrote thank you notes to their special person and presented their completed projects to the rest of their class. The students received such a positive response from their VIP’s. They asked the kids to think of new questions for the next time they communicated and thanked the kids for thinking of them.
Mrs. Cynthia Hillhouse’s second grade students at St. Mary’s Catholic School: (front row, left to right) Sam Dean, Lillian Wilkerson, Lyric Manotas and Mackenzie Harper. Second row: Oliver Picou, Hadley Mayeaux, Annabeth Thornton, Aubree Rachal and Addison Albert. Third row: Waylon Nelson, Branch Smith, Patrick Lemoine, Sutton Vandersteen, Heath Methvin and Colie Mathews. Back row: Peyton Vascocu, Camille Lindsey, Hudson Harrington and Mya Hernandez.