The Great Thanksgiving Listen

History is a part of who we are, and there is no better way to learn about it than through the eyes of someone we love.

Our English 11, U.S. History and A.P. U.S. History classes partnered for StoryCorps national pilot program titled The Great Thanksgiving Listen.

StoryCorps provides people across the country with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of their lives. Its core mission is to create an avenue for people of all generations to share their history and lessons of generations past. It also seeks to establish an understanding of culture and connections.

Founded in 2003 with its StoryBooth in Grand Central Trinomial in New York, StoryCorps has expanded its reach to thousands of people around the country. It has recently launched the StoryCorps App with the help of a 2015 Ted Prize, which is a new tool that will allow people to collect, store and share the wisdom of humanity.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday our students were challenged with collecting stories from their loved ones by interviewing them for The Great Thanksgiving Listen.  

“I interviewed my grandmother, 91-year-old Georgia Kambitsis. We had an absolutely wonderful time,” said Maria Leondaridis ’17. “I really enjoyed hearing my grandmother’s stories that I had never heard before, such as her experiences with events in history like World War II, segregation and women's rights. She also told me about her experience adapting to American culture after the German and Italian soldiers invaded her village; and how she learned to speak English from watching a children’s show.”

Students opened their world to so much more with StoryCorps’ pilot program. They were able to learn about the experience of their grandparents or an elder within their family and the aspects of life they’ve encountered and overcome.

“For The Great Thanksgiving Listen, I interviewed my grandpa Phillip Brooks. The time I spent with him conducting the interview was amazing.  I was able to learn more about him and his life story then previously knew,” said Amir Horton ’17. “The experience I had with my grandpa is one that I will always remember for the rest of my life.”

“He told me about his experience growing up in a small, two-bedroom home in Cobham, Va. with his parents, brothers and sisters. He also told me about his professional career; I found out that at one point, my grandpa was the youngest hospital administrator in the country to operate a 200-bed hospital,” said Amir.

One of the goals of the project was to build greater relationships with those around us.

“I felt this was important for our students because it fits perfectly into our curriculum and teaches students the importance of storytelling,” said Ashley Billman, the English teacher who piloted the project at Collegiate. “We started our year with the topic of historical narratives and this project was a nice segue into individuals personal narratives.”

History is often preserved through experiences.

“Storytelling through spoken word instead of written literature is tradition in most cultures,” Billman said. “I wanted students to see the importance for storytelling in their everyday lives.”

By taking the time to listen, students learned the most amazing stories come from everyday people, their wisdom and the poetry of their words can open the door to history, firsthand.

“The most important thing I learned is that the people around us, like my grandma, who we think we know very well have so much more to them than we realize,” said Maria.

Tori Cherry ’17 interviewed a key figure in her life and community, Mrs. Hortense Williams, owner of a barbershop on Church Street in Norfolk. 

I learned a lot about her through this project. She is such an inspiration to me because she is 87 years old, healthy, drives on her own and goes to work every to a job she loves,” Tori said. “Many years ago, Mrs. Hortense was a prominent figure in the community. For example, she was able to put together a huge basketball game to benefit kids living in the projects.”

Connections and relationships are important to human life. This project allowed students to use technology to bridge a gap in their family and community history.

“Overall, I believe this project was a phenomenal experience and that everyone should participate. It benefits the interviewer who gets learn more about someone in his or her life through a different lens,” said Maria. “It also benefits the interviewee who is appreciative that someone wants to listen to his or her experiences and stories.”

Each project will be preserved in the America Folk Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

To listen to the stories of our students, click here and then search "TheGreatListen2015VA" and "NorfolkCollegiate2015."

To learn more about StoryCorps, visit     




Dec. 4, 2015