Eighth grade homeroom teacher Jack Bowers tells his students in September, “You are in charge of the spirit of the school.” He reminds them that younger students look to them for cues about everything from what to wear to how to decorate a cubby, so they’d better be mindful of the example they’re choosing to set. Not only that, but eighth graders also benefit from reflecting on the memories and ripple effects they’ll leave behind when they graduate. As fall gives way to winter and eighth graders’ high school applications are complete, Mr. Bowers wants each member of the class to take the reins of leadership in whatever way he or she can. That’s why the Legacy Project exists. For over ten years now, each eighth grade student at Hill writes to Mr. Bowers articulating the ways in which he or she would like to be remembered after graduation.
Daily reminders from Mr. Bowers and opportunities to read past years’ legacy papers keep the current eighth grade thinking about their legacies throughout the winter. Some students focus on the way they’ll be remembered as students; others consider their roles as athletes, musicians, artists, or mentors. Everyone knows that the writing is due before spring break and that Mr. Bowers will quote from it as part of his citizenship comment. There is no length requirement for the writing, and students are free to structure their pieces in whatever way they want. Though all eighth graders work on legacy papers, they tend not to discuss them with each other, according to Mr. Bowers. Instead, the writing is a private conversation between student and teacher. Self-knowledge and empowerment are key. “Writing showed me what my values were,” one alumnus of Hill School’s eighth grade wrote. Another noted, “The value of writing is that after seeing my ideas, I seem to know myself better. Thinking about my legacy made me remember that I have made many mistakes and that they have been important learning experiences….Now I do not fear failure.” Finally, another eighth grader wrote, “Knowing that you are in control of your legacy gives you a chance to show who you are and not merely what others think of you.”
“Kids are the experts at being kids,” Mr. Bowers says. He gives eighth graders an opportunity to reflect on what they leave behind, and they do the rest.