Students record, preserve stories of Island community

Update: The Mercer Island Sound Portrait project has been completed and interviews have been compiled on the Mercer Island School District's Web site. Visit the District's Web site featuring interviews.

Learning about someone’s home can be done through books and pictures, but hearing personal stories from relatives and friends about what life was like during a bygone era can be much more powerful. Drawing from the inspiration of the National Public Radio’s StoryCorps project, which captures individual stories through personal interviews, the Mercer Island School District is offering members of the community the same chance to preserve stories, remembrances and personal histories later this month through the Sound Portrait project.

The project is the brainchild of Nathan Friend, the radio broadcasting teacher at Mercer Island High School, Sarah Olson and Julie Hovind, both teachers on special assignments with the district’s technology department.

Friend said he wanted to find a way to bring this type of project to the Island in order to let people gather and capture stories.

“The whole point of StoryCorps is to kind of piece together the idea of community and stories. This being an Island really lends itself to the idea of building community through these kinds of conversations,” said Friend.

On Nov. 12, 16-19 and 23-24, members of the community, students, parents and others can stop by Mercer Island High School between 4 and 8 p.m. to participate.

“It’s the first time we’ve tried to do something like this, so we’re not sure what the turnout will be, but we’re anticipating it will take 25 minutes. StoryCorps has a great list of questions so people can come in with essentially nothing and, at the end of it, we will have a digitally recorded interview,” said Olson. Once interviews are completed, they will be posted to a specific Mercer Island Web site, which will be accessible through the district’s main page. Olson also pointed out that no specific connection to the school is required to take part, but students and their families are encouraged to take part as well.

Currently, a couple of classes at the elementary school level have done their own projects similar to this, when the class has chosen a community member, invited them in and done a class interview that Hovind records.

“I come in one time ahead of the interview and talk about good questions and help them get the questions formatted, and then I assist with the recording,” said Hovind. She said the process, so far, has been extremely exciting and successful.

The effort is being loosely coordinated with the National Day of Listening on Nov. 27, but Olson said teachers will be collecting stories throughout the year as it best fits with their lessons.

Overall, the project has a nice tie to the district’s 2020 vision of helping students thrive in a cognitive, digital and global world.

“This is a bridge between those two [cognitive and digital],” said Friend. “For the digital world, we obviously have that because we’re recording and creating a digital archive of the stories, but then the thought process behind it that gets to that point is, what are good questions to ask? How you do you draw people? How do you think about storytelling, and how do you think about history? It brings together all these different cognitive processes you’re learning in the classroom environment and creates a bridge to the 21st century idea of creating, really, a digital memory.”

For Hovind, the project also brings home the global aspect of sharing.

“I think with global sharing, it doesn’t always mean global; sharing internationally,” she said. “I think sharing globally can be in the community, bringing the stories to our classrooms in this shared environment.”

In many ways, they are drawing out the personalities of the Island and preserving those thoughts and memories forever.

“It’s not just learning about fictional characters in a historic time,” said Olson. “They are learning about the history through the voices of the community.”

Drop-ins at MIHS are welcome on the dates for Sound Portrait, but people are also welcome to call (206) 793-2200 to schedule a time to stop by.

For more information on the StoryCorps project, visit

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