Hailey Worthy, Lori Wewel and Erica Walsh stand with a plaque and $2,000 check the eighth grade English teachers from both Gretna and Aspen Creek middle schools received through a grant.

Eighth graders’ end of year English projects are getting a boost in 2020.

English teachers at both Gretna and Aspen Creek middle schools have partnered to secure a $2,000 grant to purchase supplies for their My Heritage/Book of Memories project.

The unit, which takes six to eight weeks to complete, encourages students to interview family members to gather information about their heritage and even themselves, using that to fuel creative writing projects.

“It’s a really good end of year project to reflect on their family, their childhood and their lives up to this point,” said Erica Walsh, an English teacher who taught at GMS before moving to ACMS.

Through the project, students sample a variety of writing genres including poetry, journaling, letter writing, narrative, essay and report writing. They complete eight pieces — or chapters — of writing, focusing on themselves, their ancestors, their childhood, school and more, even writing a letter to their graduating self.

The chapters are made into a final scrapbook, a bound keepsake for the student and their family.

“We talk a lot about the fact that if you don’t carry on your family history, it ends,” said Lori Wewel, eighth grade English teacher at GMS. “This is their opportunity to tell those stories.”

The grant, obtained through Voya Unsung Heroes and administered through Scholarship America, is the largest grant the teachers have ever received for the project. Funds will help pay for binding of the books, as well as supplies like stickers and scrapbook paper.

The teachers said many students become very invested in the project, as do their parents.

“We get a lot of emails from parents saying that this is the first time they’ve taken an interest in these stories,” Wewel said. “The families all get to come together to learn, to laugh and to cry together while sharing these stories.”

As students wrap up their books, they come together and share bits of pieces of their stories with each other.

“They’ll make connections through what they learned about their families,” said Hailey Worthy, GMS English teacher.

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