Mary Kuechenmeister

Andover, NH

I founded the Story Preservation Initiative (SPI) in 2010. It started simply as an outgrowth of my irrepressible interest in people’s life stories.

That interest has always been a large part of who I am going back to my twenties when I would call people up on the phone and ask, “€œCan I meet you?” More times than not, the answer was yes.  Some of my earliest interviews: an Olympic biathlete; a Shaker basket maker; a group of environmentalists who re-nested sea turtle eggs. There were few stones left unturned.

Now a 501c3 public charity, SPI audio records the oral histories of those of high achievement in the arts, sciences, and humanities for use as an educational resource. Our collection is archived in the Library of Congress, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and in libraries throughout the country.

In 2014, Story Preservation created our Learning Lab project for which we combine our primary source audio with teacher-vetted project-based lesson plans. And we bring this resource directly into the classroom. Primary source material + project-based lesson plans = BIG (fun) Learning!

Monadnock Regional Middle-High School in New Hampshire is a Learning Lab school. One particular class was introduced to audio of noted ornithologist and birdsong expert Donald Kroodsma. The audio, along with more than 100 images of birds, served as the engagement piece for this term-long pilot project.

Bird feeders were set up in the school courtyard. The student€™s’ assignment was to keep a nature journal, in which they drew and identified the birds that they saw and engaged in reflective writing. Their observations were compiled and sent to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Project FeederWatch Program.

The learning that took place throughout the term was broad and deep, ranging from writing and drawing to scientific observation, as well as research and interviewing skills. Perhaps the “pièce de résistance”“, the students designed a bird sanctuary and wrote a proposal to have it built, and it was unanimously approved by the school board.

As one student put it: “The SPI Learning Lab Project was memorable because I was able to explore nature, physically and mentally. I loved how it was hands on because I got to do all of the filling of bird feeders, making blueprints, and just being able to be with the birds.”

Younger people bring fresh ideas and energy to their work, but many times they also bring the distractions of home and other commitments to the workplace. Older workers focus, focus, focus … they bring passion, enthusiasm, and a tirelessness and singleness of purpose to the workplace.

(Listen to a 3:00 segment about Stories Preservation Initiative from New Hampshire Public Radio.)