Participating in an educational enrichment program focused on digital literacy that serves girls and young women in Madison County.
Deborah Hicks, Research Scholar, Program in Education, Duke University
Spring Creek, Hot Springs, and Laurel, North Carolina are small mountain communities in Madison County, located in Appalachian, North Carolina. The small town of Hot Springs is the site for a rural demonstration center, founded in 2010, the Spring Creek Literacy Project, focused on education for girls and young women. The project's mission is to promote literacy, social equity, and economic opportunity for girls and young women in an economically distressed Appalachian region. The Spring Creek Literacy Project (SCLP) offers a free summer enrichment program for girls entering grades 6-9. It also provides a high school internship program, focused on helping Appalachian girls create futures that include college. Girls living in the remote communities of Spring Creek, Laurel and in Hot Springs are eligible to participate in the program for four consecutive summers.
DukeEngage participants in this summer program will work to create a rural demonstration center still in its earlier phases of development. Students interested in education, public policy, child development, poverty and economic development, documentary studies, literature/English, and women’s issues will find this a meaningful and rewarding summer service opportunity.
DukeEngage program participants will work with the Spring Creek Literacy Project.
Mentors/Literacy Teachers: DukeEngage students will serve as mentors, role models and literacy teachers/coaches for girls who are entering grades 6-9. They will help implement a six-week literacy program (over two three-week terms) that includes reading and literature study, writing, photography and "digital storytelling" — creating multi-media stories with voice-over narrations and background music.
High School Internship Coordinator: One DukeEngage participant will coordinate a high school internship program for four high school interns – local young women who will themselves serve as mentors for their middle school peers.
Additional Service Opportunities: Students can also propose a more individualized form of summer service that contributes to the SCLP and/or the Appalachian community it serves. On a more limited basis, the project can accept creative proposals from individual students with interests related to the mission of the SCLP and to the lives of rural Appalachian people.
Program Requirements & Environmentals:
Language/Other Prerequisites: None.
Reflection Sessions: On weekdays, the project director (Deborah Hicks) and lead teacher (Caroline Davis from the Madison County School System) will lead daily planning sessions after the middle and high school participants leave each afternoon. At the sessions, we will review each day’s progress, design and plan literacy and photographic projects for subsequent days, and consider issues related to media relations, communications, and planning of fieldtrips and a final exhibition. In addition, we will have regular reflection sessions, one per week on average, led by the site coordinator, in which DukeEngage participants reflect on their service and cultural immersion experiences in Madison County.
Neighborhood: Hot Springs is located approximately 4 ½ hours driving distance from Duke University, and approximately 45 minutes from the city of Asheville in Western North Carolina. The geographic area served by the SCLP is known for its small mountain communities such as Laurel, Revere (formerly Sodom Laurel), Hot Springs and Spring Creek. It is nestled in between the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountain ranges, not far from the East Tennessee border. The area is both beautiful, with scenic mountain views everywhere the eye turns, and economically distressed. Rural people in the area struggle to adapt to new economic times in a region that was once sustained by farming, especially tabacco farming. The Appalachian Trail (AT) passes through Hot Springs and offers hikes to places such as Max Patch, a bald that offers 360-degree views of the mountains. On the weekends and evenings, interested students can enjoy traditional bluegrass music in Hot Springs and nearby Marshall, take walks along the French Broad River or the Appalachian Trail, or sit in one of the town’s small coffee shops or local eateries such as the Smoky Mountain Diner. Students who want to experience a break from mountain living can go to nearby Asheville on the weekends. In recent times, downtown Asheville has grown into a major hub for the arts and music, folk crafts, and restaurants.
Housing and Accommodations: DukeEngage students will reside in an eight-bedroom hostel that is part of Laughing Heart Lodge, formerly a Jesuit retreat center in Hot Springs. During other parts of the year, the hostel provides basic overnight lodging for Appalachian Trail hikers. For the entire DukeEngage program, the hostel and associated cottage (occupied by the DukeEngage site coordinator) are reserved solely for the Duke team. The hostel provides simple, rustic accommodations. Each Duke student has a private bedroom with three shared bathrooms for teh DukeEngage team. The hostel has a common meeting area and a rudimentary kitchen (full-sized fridge, hot plate, microwave) and outdoor gas and stone grills for grilling. The grounds of Laughing Heart Lodge are lovely, with mountain views and a large grassy lawn area for relaxing and exercising. The facility is within easy walking distance of "downtown" Hot Springs—a main street with a café, two restaurants and one diner.
Meals: The DukeEngage student community will have a number of options for meals. Members of the DukeEngage team are invited to join our young program participants in sharing the hot breakfasts and lunches prepared for the educational program. In that case, interested DukeEngage students will need to pay for these prepared meals from their DukeEngage stipends. Evening meals can be prepared at the hostel or enjoyed at one of the local eateries in Hot Springs or elsewhere. Food can be purchased at the "Hillbilly Market," within easy walking distance of the hostel, though this market has a more limited selection. Local residents and particularly the "not from here" people who have moved into the region tend to orient toward Asheville and Marshall for food shopping. Marshall, Weaverville and Asheville have a range of food shopping options, which include "whole food" supermarkets in Asheville such as Earthfare and Green Life (now owned by Whole Foods), supermarkets such as Ingles, and multi-purpose stores such as Walmart. The area is rich in locally grown food resources. Mountain Harvest Organics in Spring Creek will do an eight-week community-sustained agriculture (CSA) membership for interested Duke students, and members of the Duke community can purchase local organic food at the North Asheville Tailgate Market on Saturdays on the UNC-A campus.
Communication: High-speed internet access is available in Hot Springs Elementary School, and internet access is available at the Laughing Heart Lodge hostel, though with a slower connection. Cell phones work well in the nearby towns (Asheville, Waynesville, Marshall) where DukeEngage team members might travel for shopping, meals, and recreational activities. Past participants have found that cell phones work reasonably well in the town of Hot Springs, though phone calls might drop more than usual anywhere in the mountains. In more remote areas such as Spring Creek or Laurel, cell phone reception is spotty.
Transportation: Mini-van transportation with an experienced, local driver will be provided for weekend food shopping, airport pickup, and cultural enrichment activities. Driving of individual cars is discouraged due to the winding nature of roads in this mountain region. The program site for the educational program is located across the street from Laughing Heart Lodge, and Duke students can easily walk to the educational program site. Free bus transportation for the middle school girls and high school interns is provided by the Madison County School System as an in-kind contribution to the SCLP. An experienced Madison County School System bus driver will operate the bus to/from Hot Springs Elementary School each weekday and on all fieldtrips, including a two-night trip to Duke organized by DukeEngage students. Duke undergraduates and staff will not be allowed to transport youth; however, Duke students will be able to ride on the activity bus to/from Duke University or other overnight trips.
Volunteer Placement Logistics: DukeEngage students will work with the SCLP as literacy teachers and mentors for middle school girls who will enter grades 6-8. During the six weeks of the summer educational program (two three-week terms), four days per week will be spent at the old Spring Creek school. A fifth day will be devoted to fieldtrips designed by the Duke students (e.g., a day hike to Max Patch Bald, a canoeing/swimming trip to Lake Junaluska). One of these trips will be a two- or three-night trip to Duke University, with an itinerary for the Appalachian girls designed and implemented by DukeEngage students.
Over the course of a two-week preparation and training period and a six-week educational program each summer, these Duke undergraduates became mentors, teachers, and leaders in a program offered to small groups of middle school Appalachian girls. Girls who would otherwise have spent their summer in isolated coves or hollers, with few or even no sustained opportunities for educational enrichment, spent six weeks reading novels, doing documentary photography, writing, and enjoying healthful outdoor activities. In addition, the SCLP girls learned how to meld one of the oldest of traditions in Appalachian culture – storytelling – with new digital tools. The girls’ digital stories are a compelling part of a final exhibition offered at the end of each summer’s program. In 2013, the SCLP will continue to grow, with an added grade level (girls entering 9th grade) and an expanded DukeEngage team (7-8 students).
Girls from the targeted communities of Spring Creek, Hot Springs, and Laurel will be able to participate in this free enrichment program for four consecutive years, and then later on to apply for selective positions as high school interns. For Summer 2013, Duke participants can expect to serve girls entering grades 6-9 (approximately 10-12 girls in each grade level) and four high school interns. Term One of the summer enrichment program (June 11-29) will be offered to girls in grades 6-7. Term Two (July 9-27) will be offered to girls in grades 8-9. The remaining service days for Duke students will be focused on staff training, curriculum planning, cultural enrichment activities, and reflection activities. Leadership roles (one will be assigned to each DukeEngage student) in addition to our collective teaching/mentoring will include:
1. Literacy through Photography: One DukeEngage student will help direct the teaching of our young student participants, so they can create meaningful photographic stories about their lives. This would be an ideal leadership role for a Duke student who has done some coursework at the Center for Documentary Studies.
2. Media/Communications: Communicating with the outside world is a critical part of the success of the SCLP. We need to tell the story of the SCLP in order to fulfill our mission as a rural demonstration project, and to ensure the sustainability of an initiative that depends upon grants, gifts and sponsorships. One DukeEngage student will help the director coordinate media outreach, communications, blogging and social networking.
3. Digital Literacy: A lot of emphasis in the SCLP is placed on digital storytelling, using a methodology adopted from the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley. One DukeEngage team member will work more closely on this digital literacy aspect of the program, helping to organize files (on MacBooks) and instruction for the young program participants. The SCLP will provide intensive staff development for everyone in the two weeks prior to the onset of the educational program. This training will be facilitated by the Center for Digital Storytelling.
4. High School Internship: The high school internship program is designed to help local young women with college dreams take the first steps toward college. Many of these girls will be the first in their families to go to a two- or four-year college. The internship coordinator will work closely with four high school interns, helping these young women with their college choices and applications over the summer and designing special activities that will advance the learning of these high school students.
5. Final Exhibition Planning: The final exhibition is a time for the young participants in the SCLP to share their work with family members, community people and educators, and friends and sponsors of the SCLP. It is an extremely important event in terms of media outreach and community relations. One DE student will have as his/her leadership task the event planning for the final exhibition, which in 2012 was held in an historic church on the main street of Hot Springs.
6. Healthy Eating, Active Movement: The food service and movement activity aspect of the SCLP is critical in a region that suffers from higher rates of obesity, linked to consumption of processed foods and soft drinks. During each three-week term of the educational program, one DukeEngage student will be assigned a leadership role in designing and implementing healthy movement activities, including outdoor activities such as a canoeing trip on a nearby mountain lake. This leadership role could also involve coordinating with Madison County farmers to bring local (preferably organic) foods into the meals cooked for the SCLP program participants.
7. Duke Fieldtrip: During Term Two of the summer enrichment program, the Duke team will escort girls in grades 8-9 to Duke University for an overnight stay of two nights or longer. One DukeEngage student will be in charge of helping design this very special trip to Duke University, the highlight of the summer program for our young participants.
8. Research: In order to fulfill its service mission, the SCLP needs to have data on the issues it hopes to address. One of the most compelling is the crisis of high school dropout, with dropout rates estimated to be close to 50% of the area served. One DukeEngage leadership role will focus on obtaining and organizing data on education, poverty and economic development that will help support the program's strategic planning and assessment of outcomes.
Opportunities for Autonomy / Private Space: Duke students are free one weekend day and most evenings. During those times, there is ample time for private space. Because the SCLP is an educational project, most weekdays will be spent in a teaching environment with middle school and high school students, with little opportunity for private space. The program's hours during the six-week summer enrichment program are 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m., beginning with an 8:30 a.m. breakfast and ending with team reflection and planning from 3-4 p.m. One weekend cultural enrichment activity will be scheduled each week, and most of these will be required (an example would be the Bluff Mountain Music Festival in early June—a day of bluegrass music in Hot Springs). An overnight home/farm stay will be part of the required cultural immersion experience that is an important part of this service opportunity.
Miscellaneous: Madison County is an area of immense beauty, yet continued economic challenge. The girls growing up in North Carolina’s traditional mountain communities are heirs to the cultural and geographic riches of the Appalachian region, and yet an intergenerational cycle of rural poverty that limits their full access to educational and economic opportunity. Duke students working on this project will have the opportunity to be part of a team that builds a social justice initiative, helping to expand an organization still in its early phase of development. They will have the chance to live and teach in a small mountain town – getting to know local people, living in a beautiful rural setting over the summer, and making a difference in the lives of Appalachian girls and young women. After their return to campu in the fall, participants will have the opportunity to stay involved by joining a growing community of DukeEngage program alumni who continue to serve as advisors and on-campus organizers.