Literacy Project Involves Students, Community

The Appalachian (Appalachian State University, Boone, NC), September 13, 2007


The Blue Ridge Family Literacy Project, formerly known as the Appalachian Storytelling Project, recognizes the power of personal history and is using it as a tool to do so. Housed in the Reich College of Education, the program is now embarking upon its third year.

Project Coordinator Dr. William S. Peacock said the principal of Mabel Elementary School approached himself, Dr. Ann Marie Clark, and A. Matt Roberts for a project that would cater to “at-risk” families.

“Our primary goal is to give families in the community an opportunity to actively become involved in celebrating their cultures and the vehicle they use in that regard is the family history story,” Peacock said. “We’re careful to keep it a strictly informal activity…the last thing we want to do is intimidate them with a formal learning experience.”

Once a week, families and their young students meet on-site with college students, dubbed “uPartners” by the program. After a communal supper, the uPartners help the families compose any of their family stories they want to share.

“You use what these folks own. They are indeed the keepers of the keys of their family history and that works beautifully,” Peacock said. “They don’t have to worry about embracing some new curricular textbook or whatever. They’re bringing the curriculum with them.”

Curriculum and instruction professor Dr. Ann Marie Clark said the program teaches parents how to work with their children.

“They might now be aware of how to get the kids to write,” Clark said. “[The program] puts a positive spin on something that is sometimes very difficult—to engage children in writing stories. Kids tend to balk at the idea of sitting down and writing a story from scratch.”

Clark said the literacy project’s risk-free environment also helps kids with reading comprehension.

“Because the stories come with them, the comprehension comes built in,” Clark said.

At the end of each semester-long program, each site holds a celebration during which the young students and their families read their favorite stories to everyone. Compilations of everyone’s stories are printed and given to all who participated.

“This gives them a lot of pride in what they write,” Clark said.

According to one testimonial on the College of Education Web site, one student said the experience forced the uPartners to step outside of their comfort zones.

“I learned to accept the diversity of not only just different races and religions, but people who are different than me,” they said. “I think it is important to try to step into many people’s shoes and learn how different people lead different lives.”

Subjects Covered: diversity training, education, personal storytelling

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