EHS US History class crafts ‘A Christmas to Remember’ for Sycamore Springs Assisted Living Center residents

Published 10:37 am Friday, December 8, 2023

This semester, students in Alex Campbell’s US History class at Elizabethton High School have partnered with Sycamore Springs Assisted Living Center to create “A Christmas to Remember.” As residents at Sycamore Springs experience memory loss and cognitive decline they sometimes even have a hard time remembering their own names or even photographs. Sycamore Springs staff noticed that some of the residents’ families created shadow boxes of their loved one’s lives and memories and placed these on the wall by their rooms. The residents were able to recognize memories from long ago of their first job, their school, places they lived or traveled, their military stations, first cars, first jobs, etc. This brought comfort and enjoyment to the residents no matter their stage of memory loss. However, only a handful of residents’ families created these, and Sycamore Springs wished more residents had their own memory shadow boxes.
The 22 history students teamed up with Activities Director Jordan Bishop to work with ten residents to create shadow boxes for additional residents. The students began by learning about the need from Bishop on August 22. Then students worked with media personality Tom Taylor to learn how to ask questions and interview people. The students were then divided into pairs and traveled to Sycamore Springs to meet and interview their resident for approximately one hour. The residents were never told that the students would be creating a shadow box for them, only that they wanted to interview them. The students also needed support in purchasing the shadow boxes which totaled close to $250. Campbell applied for the Northeast Community Credit Union’s Helping Teachers Grant and was rewarded $300 toward the purchase of the shadow boxes and supplies.
When back at school, the students worked through the social history from the 1930s through the 1990s, which were the foundational years in the lives of the residents, to learn about what life would have been like for them. They also began to research their residents based on the information they received from their interview answers. They worked with local artist, Nash Acuna, on Sept. 26 to understand the art concepts needed to create this visual representation of their residents’ lives.
Tracy Wilson, the regional Alzheimer’s Tennessee representative, came to the school on October 18 and provided more information to the students about Alzheimer’s, dementia, and cognitive decline. She also put the students through an interactive Alzheimer’s simulation so the students could understand how patients feel, see, and perceive their environment.
Later the students requested to revisit Sycamore Springs when they realized they needed more specific information from their residents to create a more personalized shadow box. The students returned on November 8 and worked with their same resident to ask follow up questions. Then, the students returned to school and created a shadow box plan and worked with Acuna to understand how to turn their plan into a personalized shadow box. Acuna also provided much needed art supplies for the students as they began to create their boxes.
As the shadow boxes were completed, the students created a presentation about how they chose to represent the important memories of their residents. On December 15, representatives from the various community individuals and groups that supported the students during the project came to the school to listen to presentations by the students about their resident and corresponding shadow box. The community members were able to ask the students questions about their creations and what they learned from the process.
On December 15, the students will return to Sycamore Springs with hand-made Christmas cards and shadow boxes wrapped as Christmas gifts to surprise their residents with representations of their lives’ greatest memories. The students wore festive attire and Sycamore Springs provided refreshments for the gathering. Each table also had conversation starters so students could continue to learn from residents and vice versa. Different topics were “What was your favorite Christmas gift as a child and why?” “What is your fondest Christmas memory?” “What were some traditions your family had on Christmas?” and “What was Christmas like for you growing up?”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox