New English Project Involves the Elderly


As Hockaday seniors trickle into room 112, they each take their seats in front of English department head Janet Bilhartz, excited to hear about the new, unique English project that had been in the works since last year.

Thirty-three high school seniors in Bilhartz’s Classics in Western Literature class will write a narrative on a senior citizen’s love life, regarding topics from first dates to marriage . This will be the first time that Bilhartz, a member of the Hockaday English Department for many years, has done anything like this project at Hockaday.

In the semester course, the students read books about romantic love, including “Wuthering Heights,” “Pride and Prejudice” and “Romeo and Juliet.” They have been writing analytical papers about the books they’re reading, so Bilhartz “wanted [the students] to have an opportunity to do some creative writing.”

The project was created with help from alumna Lilly Lerer ‘05, who prompted forming a connection between young and elderly people. She provides connections to The Legacy, the nursing home that houses the elderly whom students will be interviewing, from her current job at the Visiting Nurses Association’s Hospice.

“I find that there’s a natural curiosity between young people and old people. They have such different generational experiences, and both find it very funny to hear about what the other is going through. I find that you don’t have to work very hard to forge a connection between those generations,” Lerer said.

Lerer will come to Hockaday and teach the class the basics of interviewing elderly people and guide the students through the process.

“Directness is a virtue that is helpful for interviewing, along with respect and curiosity, especially for interviewing that generation,” Lerer said was the most important piece of advice she wants to emphasis.

After Lerer teaches the class the basics of interview, they will draft questions together.

“The students can decide which direction they want to go in. They could ask about their marriage, in which case they might say, where or when did you meet your spouse? Did you like him right away or did you not? Did he try and impress you? Where did you go on your first date? What were you wearing?” Bilhartz said.

The students will spend one class period going to The Legacy for interviews. If they need more time, they are allowed to go back and finish conducting their interviews.

With the information gathered during the interview, the students will brainstorm and solidify their ideas. While doing so, they must keep in mind the HIPAA regulations, which provide patient confidentiality, so while the students cannot name a place that has sentimental value and is important in the life of that woman, they can recreate the scene that pleases their creativity and embellish some parts of the story if needed.

Senior Emma Winson, who is one of the writers, is looking forward to this project because she has never done anything like this in class.

“Being able to interact with other people and then create a narrative about their lives that we truly don’t have that much of an idea about, so I think It’ll be interesting,” Winson said.

But there is always the possibility of failure when trying a new project.

“I’ve not done anything like this before, so we’ll see how it works. It could go really well, or it could not work out at all. If you don’t try, you don’t know, so it’s a risk, but I’m excited about it and I hope it will go well,” Bilhartz said.

Along with the fear of this project malfunctioning, Lerer is soon departing Dallas to move on in her career. But she has no worries for the project for when she departs.

“My colleagues [at the VNA] and the woman at The Legacy Center are very excited about it and would love to help with it in the future, so hopefully this will continue–if the teachers [at Hockaday] would like it to,” Lerer said.

The paper is due in the middle of March, before exams. When the narratives are done, Bilhartz hopes to have them bound in a book to present to the senior citizens, which she thinks “would be fun for them.”

Cheryl Hao – Asst. Castoff Editor