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PHS Freshmen Share Personal Memoirs in New Exhibit

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PHS Freshmen Share Personal Memoirs in New Exhibit
Posted on 06/10/2015
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A community exhibit of personal memoirs written by Portland High School freshmen is on display at the school through Friday, June 19, the end of the school year.

An anthology of the stories also will be published in the coming weeks.

The memoir writing was done as  part of a yearlong effort to encourage grit and cultivate community among the incoming freshman class, explained social studies teacher Kristin Rogers. She said two classes of Freshman Seminar students wrote personal memoirs that identified a transformative moment that they felt revealed something important about who they were or a change that they had undergone.

To prepare for writing the memoirs, the students saw the documentary “I Learn America” at the University of Southern Maine earlier this year, a film about teenage immigrants to this country.

They also read stories from The Telling Room's anthology, “The Story I Want to Tell,” and participated in a presentation and discussion with two of the anthology’s authors, Portland High School graduate Richard Akera and Maine author Richard Russo. They then began a rigorous process of brainstorming, writing and revising before preparing for the final presentation.

The exhibit – in which the memoir pieces are displayed on windows on the school’s second floor – is the culminating project. Rogers said the exhibit is “designed to build community and create connections through the sharing of personal memoirs that represent the diversity present at Portland High School and to allow students an opportunity to be seen as individuals and to see others as individuals.”

Other students visiting the exhibit are being encouraged to interact with the pieces by responding to sentence starters posted at the ends of the exhibit such as "These pieces changed the way I think about..." and "After reading these pieces I am inspired to strengthen my community by..."

“We hope that this exhibit will serve as a conversation starter to continue to strengthen the Portland High School community by recognizing and celebrating each individual,” Rogers said.

The students wrote an introduction to the exhibit, which reads in part:

“As part of our final unit in Freshman Seminar, we each wrote a short personal memoir about an influential moment in our lives. The goal was to help us understand others’ experiences through storytelling and to help bring the diverse Portland High School community closer together.
This project took perseverance, courage, and grit. Most of us started with the feeling of having nothing to say, but we ended with powerful stories that spoke to everyone in some way or another. We have read our stories out loud to each other and now, we have put them on the wall to share with the wider school community.
By sharing our stories, we have changed the way we think of ourselves, and our class as a community. If we can all see each other's individual identities, we can stop making assumptions about people and start thinking of each other as equals. Everyone has a story, and it is up to each of us to listen and hear what that story is.”