Seventy-six boxes of all sorts and sizes held the family stories of the entire 6th grade on the final day of school before Winter Break 2022. Parents, grandparents, faculty, and staff browsed the carefully curated collections of artifacts and accompanying personal essays students had displayed inside violin cases, laundry baskets, suitcases, and more. There was a 1950s waffle maker in one box, a pair of embassy challenge coins in another, and just across the room, a family flute with a shared family and GDS history.
After a three-year hiatus from the in-person Family Box Project, a 30+-year tradition in 6th grade English, students proudly shared their stories.
“I enjoyed getting to share my background, heritage, and what I’m all about with other people,” said Harry, whose box project included a flute belonging to his grandfather, beloved former GDS band teacher Bill Turner. “The flute carries his memory around the house and reminds us all who he was and what he used to do.”
Prior to the main showcase, students had the opportunity to share their projects with their classmates. “The presentations were the highlight [for me], and I got to learn a lot more about people's individual and family history [as well as] what was meaningful for them,” said Stella, whose great-grandmother, Dorothy, grew up during the Great Depression. “Things that we enjoy today, she didn’t have any access to. [So, later in life], she used to go to garage sales and buy whatever china tea sets and glass bowls they had…things that had been extremely expensive during the Great Depression.”
American professor of folklore Henry Glassie wrote, “History is not the past but a map of the past, drawn from a particular point of view, to be useful to the modern traveler.” Students’ artifacts, spanning continents and many decades, are like so many signposts on the intersecting roads of our interconnected histories. Here, two students’ stories intersect briefly. There, a landmark from someone else’s heritage offers a new perspective or unravels a bias. The Family Box Project, as with so many other well-loved GDS projects, challenges students to tell their stories—to be guides as well as travelers.