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Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities awards BRIDGE grant money

ISSUED: 14 May 2020
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Teachers and community members who participated in a Shepherd University BRIDGE Institute, “Voices from the Misty Mountains and Reclaiming Our Story,” received a $500 award to use for teaching resources and professional development to help them tell West Virginia’s story. Shepherd’s Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities received a $10,000 BRIDGE grant from the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs to offer the Institute for the purpose of bringing together community leaders and teachers in the region to learn West Virginia’s story and take it to underserved children. Spring Mills High School was Shepherd’s public school partner in the project.

Institute participants presented their projects on May 5 via Zoom to an audience of local principals, Shepherd administrators and instructors, and Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt, director of Shepherd’s Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities.

Project presentations were as varied and diverse as the teachers and community leaders who participated. Renee Ritenour, kindergarten teacher, Opequon Elementary, is using her funds to build a children’s library of Appalachian storybooks for her class. Sharon Smith, art teacher, Eagle School Intermediate, developed a unit on basket weaving and folk painting in order to tell the Appalachian story through art. Bland Campbell, North Jefferson Elementary, created a virtual road trip for his students so that he could share the places that tell the story of the West Virginia mine wars, Roosevelt’s New Deal, and other stories in the state’s history. Clare Webb, Wildwood Middle School, Francoise Inman, Spring Mills High School, and Rebbecca Martin, Mountain Ridge Middle School, all focused their attention on bringing the story to their public school classrooms and creating resources to enrich that story.

Other participants included Wendy Hobson, kindergarten teacher, Valley View Elementary; Shannon Holiday, Shepherd coordinator for students in transition and first-year experience director; and Erin Gaertner, a transition agent with Jobs and Hope West Virginia, who helps young people addicted to drugs and leaving prison transition back into the community.  

Telling the story of West Virginia were history professor Dr. Ben Bankhurst, assistant professor of history; Dr. James Broomall, director, George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War; and adjunct Appalachian studies faculty Adam Booth and Rachael Meads. Writer Gretchen Moran Laskas joined the group from her home in California for a discussion of her novel “The Miner’s Daughter.” Jessica Salfia, Spring Mills High School teacher, helped the BRIDGE participants find ways to bring their work to underserved children in the Eastern Panhandle.

“Giving children and young people a sense of exploring their heritage and identity is immensely important as they begin to understand themselves and their own stories,” Shurbutt said. “People with a strong sense of identity exhibit more confidence and success in all aspects of their lives.” 

Shurbutt also said that telling one’s story before others articulate it for you is empowering, and empowered people can better take on the challenges of these difficult times. Shepherd hopes to run the Institute again in 2021 to teachers and community leaders across the state. 

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