Old school: Beverly High seniors making documentary about former Briscoe school

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By The Salem Evening News

BEVERLY — A century after it was built as the city’s high school, the Briscoe building is being transformed into affordable housing for people age 55 and over. But it’s another group of seniors — the high school kind — who are looking to preserve the building’s history and the memories that came with it.

Nine Beverly High School students are making a documentary about Briscoe for their senior project. The students are looking for people who attended or worked at the school and would be willing to be interviewed for the documentary.

“We are hoping to use the voices of people to sort of craft a story of what it was like to attend or work there and how the building affected people who went to it,” senior Stewart Moran said.

Briscoe opened in 1923 at 7 Sohier Road and went on to serve as a high school, junior high school or middle school until its closing in 2018. The city sold the building to Harborlight Homes and Beacon Communities, who are redeveloping it into 85 affordable units for low-income seniors as well as six live/work studios for artists.

Moran said students came up with the idea of a documentary when they were looking through old yearbooks in the high school library and realized that Briscoe was coming up on its 100th anniversary in 2023.

“Everyone in our group is aware of how many people that school has impacted,” Moran said. “Even if someone hasn’t gone there, they’ve heard of it, they’ve seen it. It’s a very iconic part of Beverly. It’s such an old school that’s been there so long and so many people have memories of it.”

Moran said it helps that, unlike the current high school, which underwent a major renovation, Briscoe remains much as it looked when it was built 100 years ago and is being historically preserved by the new owners.

“The building is largely unchanged so I feel that everyone’s memories of what the building looks like haven’t changed that much,” he said.

It won’t be the first time Briscoe has played a starring role in a production. It was used to portray Gloucester High School in the Academy Award-winning movie “CODA”.

The Beverly High students plan to conduct as many audio interviews as they can for the documentary. If someone cannot meet with a student in person for an interview, they can submit an audio recording of themselves. People can also submit photos or videos from their time at Briscoe.

The students will combine those interviews and visuals with footage of the building that they plan to shoot themselves and edit into a “cohesive narrative,” Moran said.

“It’s a learning experience,” he said. “We’ll start off interviewing each other to get a basic understanding or oral history. From there we can really hone our craft so we’ll be able to have the whole process feel a lot more organized and professional.”

People who wish be interviewed or contribute to the documentary can contact the students at garciaom920@gmail.com or briscoemiddle.1923@gmail.com. People can also sign up to be interviewed on the group’s Facebook and Instagram pages, both named Briscoe Documentary.

Andrew DeFranza, executive director of Harborlight Homes, said in an email that Harborlight and Beacon Communities are excited to have the high school students doing the project.

“As we shepherd Briscoe into its next century of service to the community, as Beverly Village for Living and the Arts, having our local youth use their creativity to take this up is a very fitting tribute,” DeFranza said.

Staff Writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at pleighton@salemnews.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.