SACO – As a teacher, I am always looking for a way to engage my students and get them more involved in the work we are doing in class. Part of that search for meaningful work often leads me to look at the tools, systems, and the projects my colleagues are using in their courses. Fortunately, I don’t have to look too far – I work with one of the most creative and enthusiastic teachers I have ever met.
Hope Hall has been teaching English and writing for the better part of two decades. Along the way, she has been nominated for Maine’s teacher of the year, and at our school, she is the faculty advisor for our Thornton Academy’s student-run magazine and newspaper (CarpeDiemOnline.org).
This past semester, she started a new project with her students in an effort to get them to better understand the people and stories that surround them daily.
What she came up with was a variation of the popular and praised website, Humans of New York. Using the ubiquitous social media site Facebook as a back end, she and her journalism students created a Facebook page titled, Humans of Thornton Academy.
“I followed their website on my Facebook feed for years, it’s a good daily reminder that everyone we meet is walking around with a story on their shoulders. Sometimes, those stories are full of joy begging to be shared, and sometimes they’re heavy and need to be acknowledged,” she said.
Hall is using the website as a tool for teaching her students the skills every journalist needs and she hopes the students carry that knowledge with them wherever they go and whatever their life pursuits happen to be.
“I hope that practicing these skills in Journalism class, as we collect Humans of Thornton Academy stories, will translate into their larger lives and encourage other students to be brave enough to connect too,” she said.
Claudia Sanchez, a senior from Spain, was one of the first students to see the new site and immediately commented on some of the stories she read.
“The website somehow brings the community so much tighter and it’s so nice to know such meaningful and unexpected things from people that we pass by every day!” Sanchez said.
The page currently has nearly 600 followers and Hall and her students are thrilled by the number of people who seem to like the site and read their work.
“I have been moved to tears by some of the quotes, the faces and stories are so memorable that when I see the people profiled so far in the halls, I feel the same connection I feel to friends,” Hall said.
“The project allows us to see that the person who makes the food in our cafeteria, is more than a person doing a job, he has a family, a past, and parents who are proud of his courage.”
Thornton Academy is one of the largest secondary schools in Maine and in terms of its student population, one of the most unique. There are more than 150 international students, from nearly 20 different countries, enrolled. At the same time, day students from Saco, Dayton, Arundel, and many other surrounding communities fill the hallways, classrooms, performance spaces, and athletic fields of the school.
For the journalism students who are responsible for the interviews, it seems like their work is just beginning.
“It was a really cool first few weeks of the project, now there are just about 1,400 people left in the community to chat with. We have our work cut out for us!” Hall said.
Follow along as Mrs. Hall and her students collect the stories and faces of the Humans of Thornton Academy.