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Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities to host October 12 discussion on West Virginia teacher’s strike

ISSUED: 26 September 2018
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — The Shepherd University Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities is sponsoring a panel discussion titled “55 Strong, The Inside Story of the West Virginia Teachers’ Strike: A Movement that Rocked the Country” on Friday, October 12, at 7 p.m. in the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

Jessica Salfia, co-editor of the book “55 Strong, Inside the West Virginia Teacher’s Strike,” will lead a panel discussion and reading from the book. She will be joined by five teachers who contributed to the book—Daniel Summers, Erin Marks, Julie Abel, Karla Hilliard, and Mark Salfia. The teachers will each share their reflections on the strike.

“55 Strong: Inside the West Virginia Teachers’ Strike” documents the 13-day walkout and offers essays by teachers sharing their experiences before, during, and after the strike. Salfia, Elizabeth Catte, author of “What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia,” and Emily Hilliard, a West Virginia-based folklorist, edited the book. It includes interviews with supporters protesting at the capitol, images from rallies, and a conclusion by Catte reflecting on the strike in the context of West Virginia’s labor history.

“Few realize just how revolutionary West Virginia’s civil and workers’ rights history has been over the past hundred years,” said Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt, director, Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities, citing the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain where workers rose up to fight for their rights and the United States government met them with guns and bombs.

“West Virginia teachers have trailed the nation with some of the lowest salaries and insurance benefits, while leading the nation in standing up for their rights and at the same time showing compassion and concern for the students they teach,” Shurbutt said. “Their actions inspired teachers across the nation this spring. This story is one you will want to hear—a story of dedication, courage, and compassion.”

“This event is about the power of storytelling and the power of the collective voice,” Salfia said. “Teachers being brave enough to speak up and speak out are how this moment became a movement. I hope the folks attending the event take home a new understanding of the enormous work of the American public educator and how true change comes from the bottom up.”

Salfia is a teacher, writer, and activist. She currently teaches English at Spring Mills High School in Berkeley County and is a graduate of Alderson-Broaddus College and Shepherd University.

Abel is the art teacher at Mountain Ridge Middle school in Berkeley County. She has been teaching for 22 years total, 18 in West Virginia. She is a two-time graduate of Shepherd with master’s and bachelor’s degrees in art education.

Hilliard is a writer and an English teacher at Spring Mills High School. She is executive vice president of the West Virginia Council of Teachers of English and a graduate of West Virginia University.

Mark Salfia is an assistant principal at Spring Mills Middle School. He has been a West Virginia educator for 15 years and is an alumnus of Alderson-Broaddus College and Fairmont State University.

Summers is an English teacher at University High School in Morgantown and a graduate of West Virginia University.

Marks has been an educator for nine years, the last seven at Tucker County High School as an English teacher, theater director, and class of 2019 sponsor.

For more information, contact Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt at

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