Working with High Schools

St. Louis has the largest Bosnian population outside of Bosnia. Nearly all of the members of this community came to St. Louis as refugees of the war and genocide that were perpetrated in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. Although our Bosnian community is rightly recognized as a vibrant and important part of the metropolitan area, many younger Bosnian-Americans are underachieving. In addition to facing the normal challenges of adolescence, younger Bosnian Americans are separated from their parents’ heritage and culture, and they may not even fully know their parents’ language. This cultural displacement, together with the traumas passed on from their parents’ experience of war and genocide, helps to account for the second generation’s higher incidence of deviant behavior that includes truancy, addiction, and in extreme cases criminality. An increasing number of Bosnian-Americans are failing to complete high school, and even fewer go on to college.

The initiative seeks to raise the level of achievement among St. Louis’s second generation of Bosnian Americans by giving them a greater value for their culture, for themselves, and for education. Specifically, it seeks to give younger Bosnian-Americans and their classmates a richer understanding of Bosnian culture by having them participate in the Bosnia Memory Project’s ongoing historical preservation effort.

Affton High School was the first to begin implementing the Initiative in 2014. In 2018, it was joined by Mehlville and Oakville High Schools in St. Louis County.

How does the High School Initiative work?

  • Qualified high school students help to record oral histories and collect documents and photographs that reflect the experiences of Bosnians and Bosnian-Americans.

  • This research is conducted in the context of a course that introduces students to Bosnian history and culture and that teaches methods of recording oral histories and preserving documents and photographs. The course is taught by qualified high school faculty using equipment owned by the high school. Fontbonne University faculty serve as a resource, providing approximately ten hours of support per semester.

  • The oral histories, documents, and photographs become part of the permanent collections of the Bosnia Memory Project, which are housed at Fontbonne University.

  • Successful participants receive 3 credit hours of university credit, awarded by Fontbonne University but transferable to other post-secondary institutions.
  • The purposes of the project include:

  • Providing high school students with an enriched educational experience;

  • Demonstrating to younger Bosnian-Americans that they are important and that their culture is important;

  • Giving participants an opportunity to be part of a university-sponsored project that is important and enduring;

  • Demonstrating to participants that completing high school and going to college are achievable goals; and

  • Building the collections of the Center for Bosnian Studies, which is dedicated to establishing an enduring record of the experiences of Bosnian genocide survivors and their families, especially those living in metropolitan St. Louis.
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