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Photo by Anita Ng

Learning on the Line: Using Oral Histories in the Classroom

March 16, 2016

Each month, Friends of the High Line invites local teachers and thinkers to write about how they incorporate the High Line into their curriculum. This month, Lara Balarezo and Meg Lyons – second grade teachers at PS 33 Chelsea Prep in Manhattan – discuss our collaborative intergenerational project “Neighborhood Buddies” and the importance of oral histories in learning about the community.

Second grader Reynaldo learns an exciting fact from PS 33 paraprofessional Nydia Torres.Photo by Anita Ng

By Lara Balarezo and Meg Lyons, PS 33 Chelsea Prep

We’d like to share some insights with you about our dynamic collaboration with Friends of the High Line on the importance of oral histories in making intergenerational connections to piece together Life in Chelsea: Then and Now.

Our curriculum is based on the New York State standards in social studies. We decided to take our students on a journey into the past, having them act as historians by using real-life primary sources to piece together the history of Chelsea. We began by using important artifacts connected to the neighborhood–the High Line chief among them.

Fourth grader Emily films as Friends of the High Line volunteer Frederica Sigel answers a question about how to get involved in the community from second grader Jacky.Photo by Anita Ng

After brainstorming with the High Line’s own educators, we came up with the idea of sharing oral histories about life in Chelsea with longtime residents. We asked Friends of the High Line volunteers to come in to our classroom and share their experiences with our students in four categories: civic action, life in Chelsea, Chelsea school community, and changes in Chelsea community over time.

The volunteers, known to us as “buddies,” were invited to our classes for an ice breaker. Both buddies and students shared artifacts that represented stories from their lives. Students learned to ask open-ended questions to elicit detailed responses from their buddies and then recorded important information about their buddies’ artifacts in an artifact booklet. By the end of the session, new friends were made and the students began to think about what life was like in Chelsea in the recent past in a more realistic, engaging way.

Friends of the High Line volunteer Carmen Matias poses with her group of second grade interviewers.Photo by Anita Ng

The lesson allowed students to sharpen their listening, speaking, and note-taking skills in alignment with the Common Core Standards. By sharing life experiences across generations by using meaningful items, history came alive for our students, and everyone was actively engaged in learning about the past.

By the end of the unit, students will interview the volunteers while being filmed. The result will be a new oral history of recent memories of Chelsea to use during future lessons.

Above, Ethan interviews Carmen about how life has changed in Chelsea. Carmen discusses her home at Penn South. All interviews were filmed by PS 33 fourth graders.

Special thanks to Friends of the High Line and PS 33 volunteers: Frederica, Nancy, Carmen, Barbara, and Nydia!

Register your field trip on the High Line this spring!

On High Line field trips, students become historians, park designers, and ecologists in the field. The experience covers park design, native ecology, and New York history. Using Common Core skills, students will reference primary source documents, touchable plant material, and artifacts during a walk 30 feet in the air!

Put their observational and critical thinking skills to the test as they learn the history behind an abandoned factory, how native plants were used by the Lenape 600 years ago, and create their own park in the sky. Trips are aligned with New York State standards for second through eighth grades. Pre- and post-materials are provided to prepare and extend your students’ experience.

Field trips are offered five days a week. On Mondays and Fridays, please join us at 10 AM or 11:45 AM. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, trips are available at 10 AM, 11 AM, and 11:45 AM.

Spring trips start April 1 and run through June 24, 2016. Title 1 Schools are eligible for a 50% discount.

Hurry! Space is limited. If you have any questions regarding the booking process, please email We hope to see you soon!

Book a High Line Field Trip Now