Each year, more than 50 individuals who have lived through major events in history are invited to Crestwood Preparatory College to share their experiences and memories. Crestwood students take on the role of junior historians, by editing the digitally recorded interviews, which are subsequently made available on the school's website. To date, Crestwood students and their Teacher Scott Masters have published online over 200 interviews with World War II (WWII) veterans and Holocaust survivors (many of whom are the students' own grandparents).
The Crestwood Oral History Project is run by its creator Scott Masters, who teaches history and politics at Crestwood Preparatory College. The project began with the idea that people who have lived through major events in history should share their experiences by talking directly to students. Mr. Masters focused first on the WWII/Holocaust era as he believed it was important for members of that generation to speak to today's students while the opportunity was still present. With this is mind, Mr. Masters has made hundreds of contacts in that community.
The Crestwood Oral History Project is a community outreach initiative in which students interview people in the community and, when permission is granted, the interviews are posted online at www.crestwood.on.ca/ohp. Many of the interviews connect to issues that are relevant to Canadian culture and the larger context of human rights.
Bringing a personal element into the classroom is a big part of Mr. Masters's personal philosophy as a history teacher. He grew up having historical discussions with his grandfathers, and came to the realization in recent years that many of his students do not have that same kind of immediate contact because, in the case of WWII for example, most of his students' grandparents were too young to have been directly involved.
Mr. Masters has been working for several years on compiling a Historical Archive. This initiative came into being because of the numerous WWII veterans and Holocaust survivors who have spoken to his students.
Thanks to the generosity of those veterans and survivors, Mr. Masters and his students have been digitizing their photos and mementoes to ensure that their memories are kept alive as part of an intact historical document. These items, and the individual interviews that accompany them, help to illuminate the past and expose students to points of view and specific memories that they would not necessarily find in textbooks.
The wartime generation won't be able to be heard directly in the classroom much longer. Many of the senior citizens whom Mr. Masters and his students have interviewed have since passed away, while others can no longer visit because of health reasons. With this in mind, Mr. Masters has decided to bolster the project's archival approach, getting the youth involved in digitizing peoples' memories, along with recording their own family histories.
Making a Difference
The Crestwood Oral History Project has evolved into something substantial from an idea that Mr. Masters carried around for a few years. The impact on the people involved varies, but for many senior citizens it has taken on a therapeutic character, allowing them to share and connect. For example, Len Rubinstein and Esther Bem spoke at Crestwood when this program first began, with the former participating right up to his 92nd birthday. Both have since passed away, and while Mr. Masters and his students miss them, they are happy that their lessons persist on the school's webpage. Both of their families have reached out from around the world to express their gratitude for the program. The interviews let people open up and they create a dialogue that can be life-changing.
Language and culture can be barriers, but as Toronto is a multicultural environment, students of various backgrounds have been able to break through. On many occasions people were interviewed for this project in their first languages by students fluent in those languages and then translations and overdubs were added. The project has also invited speakers from different cultures to the school to connect; for example, in 2010, Henry Chu spoke to many of Crestwood's Korean students. In a session conducted entirely in Korean, he discussed his role in the Korean War and his views on the present political situation.
Technology has also been challenging, for Mr. Masters in particular, but he has drawn on his students' talents, and they have flipped the classroom.
Vision for the Future
The Crestwood Oral History Project is Mr. Masters's initiative, but he is proud that it is being embraced by other faculty members. His fellow Grade 10 History teacher has students involved in the Oral History interviews. The Anthropology and Geography teachers are incorporating it as well; the former for a unit on genocide studies, and the latter for community interviews based on Toronto's multiculturalism.
The next evolution of the Oral History Project – already underway - involves students interviewing people from Toronto's many diverse communities.
About Crestwood Preparatory College
Crestwood Preparatory College is a private school in Toronto, a member of the Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario. Scott Masters is a Crestwood teacher who has taken the lead on, and developed, the Crestwood Oral History Project.
Best Practice Contact
Mr. W. Scott Masters, Teacher, Crestwood Preparatory College
Office: 416-391-1441, ext. 69; Home: 416-422-5766
217 Brookbanks Dr.
Toronto, ON M3A2T7