Students’ community celebration honored their elders


An eighth-grade class in Minneapolis’ InterDistrict Downtown School (IDDS) is taking pride in their recent event — called Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song — for having accomplished three things; It was a successful literacy and history project for the students. It honored and celebrated the lives of three community elders. And it gave legendary local songwriter and performer Larry Long a chance to begin passing the torch to two rising local stars.

On March 19, IDDS’ eighth-grade social studies class hosted a community celebration honoring three Minneapolis community elders in song, R&B and hip hop music, and poetry. The honorees were former teacher Mary Louise Walker, her husband Rufus, and Richard Shore, a volunteer tutor.

The Walkers were chosen for this honor as the subjects of the winning essay about influential persons in the student’s life (in their case, they are the student’s grandparents). Students chose 80-year-old Richard Shore for his dedication as a volunteer math tutor every week for the past five years.

The script for Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song was based on the life stories of the three honored elders. It was written and performed by the students under the direction of Larry Long, Anthony Galloway, Jamez Powell and Miriam Bungert.

Larry Long is the creator of Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song, his life’s work for 30 years, during which time he has written close to 1,000 songs for elders all over the United States. This year he is working in 10 schools. Working with IDDS was unique, he explained, because he had the opportunity to coach and share his skills with the next generation — Anthony Galloway and Jamez Powell.

Galloway is poet/songwriter and African storyteller with the Arts-Us organization and current The Choice is Yours program coordinator for the West Metro Education Program (WMEP). Jamez Powell is a former student of the famed Walker West Music Academy in St. Paul, and resident musician at St. James AME Church. Miriam Bungert is the eighth-grade social studies teacher.

The students interviewed the elders, each one asking a question; then they transcribed their interviews. “This was an interesting way for them to learn about history, and also a literacy project,” reflected Bungert. “They used the transcript to think about it, move it around in their minds, write song lyrics, and perform it in front of people.”

Bungert also pointed out that the students learned history firsthand from the elders, and they developed interviewing skills as well. Moreover, “They felt ownership; they were invested in the whole project.

“One of the most important things that the class may have gotten out of the project is the advice from the elders,” said Bungert. “The elders were asked, ‘What advice do you have for these eighth-graders?’ They stressed that education was the most important thing for them to focus on at this age. The message the elders had for them was really important for them. They need to hear that from as many people as possible.”

Long explained that the objective of Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song is to “honor the stories of the many nations of people who call this home; to cross lines of complexion, class and culture; and to cross many lines of faith.” What he hopes to accomplish by engaging students in this project is empathetic learning whereby students own the songs, and conflict resolution whereby they learn how to get along by knowing each other’s stories.

The discussions that are held in the classroom after the performance, when students talk about what they’ve learned, fit into all of the standards of the International Baccalaureate learning program, said Long. “It’s not just sugar coating that we’re all going to get along”; situations have to be created that encourage that type of learning.

This project “acknowledges the fact that there is wisdom to be shared by everybody all the way from the school custodian to the banker. Everybody has a story to tell and wisdom to be transferred through firsthand experience,” continued Long.

The Elders’ Wisdom, Children’s Song community celebration was free and open to the public, and it appeared to be enjoyed by all who took advantage of the opportunity. One teacher described it as “a terrific and meaningful performance.” Due to the overwhelming positive response, it will be performed again at a later date.

“I’ve been honored to celebrate with many elders and youth in our community,” said Long. “Every indigenous culture honors its elders.”

Larry Long created Community Celebration of Place, a nonprofit organization that brings together children, elders, and people of different backgrounds to honor and celebrate commonalities and differences. He has a contract and partnership with WMEP to expand integration and education training in 11 school districts. For more information, go to

The West Metro Education Program (WMEP) School District was formed in 1989 to cooperatively address integration issues in the west metro area. The mission of WMEP is to promote student success and community acceptance of differences by providing opportunities for students, families, and staff from diverse backgrounds to learn from and with each other. Member districts of WMEP are Brooklyn Center, Columbia Heights, Eden Prairie, Edina, Hopkins, Minneapolis, Richfield, Robbinsdale, St. Anthony/New Brighton, St, Louis Park and Wayzata. For more information about InterDistrict Downtown School, call 952-848-4098.