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High School journalism students host StoryCorps, recording life of ordinary people

PMG PHOTOS: CLAIRE GREEN - Jim Britsch shared his story with the help of his daughter and Wilsonville High senior Alyson Johnston via the StoryCorps program.  On Nov. 25, Wilsonville High School opened its doors to the community for StoryCorps, a student-organized storytelling and archiving event.

Since it started on NPR in 2003, the mission of StoryCorps has been to "preserve and share humanity's stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world." The nonprofit program took a twist in 2015 when it developed a free mobile app that allows people to conduct one-on-one interviews and upload their stories to the Library of Congress.

The Nov. 25 event was not Wilsonville High School's first crack at StoryCorps. Language Arts teacher John Fitzgerald — fondly referred to by his students as Mr. Fitz — first kickstarted the app-enabled program at the school three years ago, but after being pulled together last minute, no one came. Nevertheless, Fitzgerald did not ditch the program and it is slowly gaining momentum. Freshman Fiona Dunn (right) and senior Meghann Yochim organize StoryCorps at Wilsonville High School.

Coming to the event with her grandfather, Jim Britsch, senior Alyson Johnston said she has always wanted to interview her grandfather and thought StoryCorps was the perfect occasion to do so.

"I thought that it was a really cool opportunity to capture a moment of history," Johnston said. "I hope that people are inspired to capture a moment of their family history with people that they love, and I hope that people will get to hear his amazing story."

Britsch said he was happy to record his life story when his "favorite" grandchild, Johnston, asked him to come.

"I can't turn her down," Britsch laughed.

Britsch's story did not disappoint. It covered the 87 years of his life, including his birth in North Dakota, sleeping in a hay bale as a runaway, a short stint in jail, eventually meeting his future wife, Audrey, and settling down in Oregon. Stories like Britsch's are one of the things this year's organizers, freshman Fiona Dunn and senior Meghann Yochim, said they appreciate about StoryCorps.

"Everyone's stories are so diverse," Yochim said.

"It's a really interesting way to record stories that aren't heard or are not common and to show different sides of things," Dunn added.

Although the event is over, Dunn and Yochim have decided to continue conducting StoryCorps-style interviews within the school via a new podcast series that will be uploaded every other week.

For students or teachers who are interested, Dunn and Yochim encourage them to go to to sign up and include some of the details of what they'd like to record.

"I hope more people come out and do this," Johnston said. "Turnout is always hard for an event that's during the day, but I hope that more people take the awesome opportunity that this provides."

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