Alumna awarded grant to encourage rural students to see themselves as citizens of Appalachia
December 16, 2021
Heather Wright, who earned her doctorate in English Language Arts Education from the Virginia Tech School of Education in 2020, recently received a grant from the Rural Schools Collaborative’s Celia B. Godsil Grants in Place Fellows program.
Her project, “Rural Places and Rural Pages,” has two goals: to engage high-school seniors in exploring their own rural identities by creating place-based stories, and to provide area elementary students with stories in which they can see themselves as rural citizens in western Appalachia.
The first stage will involve the high-school students researching an aspect of their rural place, such as a famous figure, a legend, a folk song, or an industry, then composing a short research paper to document their findings. This paper will form the foundation for the second phase of the project, in which the students will craft engaging children’s books, including photos and illustrations, to share the story of their research paper’s topic.
The students will then be challenged to find exemplary place-based, rural-focused, and southern-focused children’s literature. In total, 125 books will be purchased for rural elementary schools, in the hope of promoting collaboration among the high school students, elementary school students, and community members.
“Stories have power, and the telling of stories has such potential to inspire,” Wright said. “I am excited to support my students as they tell the stories of their place through this grant project. More than anything, I’m excited for community members to read the students’ work and hear how those stories will speak to community experiences and identities of place.”
Unlike many of her doctoral peers, who pursued careers in higher education as faculty members or researchers following graduation, Wright chose to return to the high-school classroom. She teaches college-level English and advanced-placement language and composition courses at Smoky Mountain High School in Sylvia, North Carolina. In this context, she continues to research the ways in which English language arts teachers can support and amplify the voices of rural adolescent students.
“Heather is an amazing teacher and scholar who is truly committed to serving students, schools, and communities,” said Wright’s doctoral advisor, Trevor Stewart, an associate professor and leader of the English Language Arts Education Program in the School of Education. “It’s great to see her generating momentum from her research agenda, which is having a positive impact on students, schools, and communities. In particular, this project will offer students a wonderful opportunity to share their voices and their experiences. It’s always exciting to see teachers finding ways to share their stories with the world.”
Stewart also noted that Amy Azano, an associate professor of adolescent literacy and rural education who worked closely with Wright, had set her student up for success.
“Heather served as my graduate assistant on two rural-focused grants during her time as a student in the English education program,” Azano said. “She brought a great deal of passion and advocacy for rural communities to Virginia Tech, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see how she is continuing to use place-conscious pedagogies designed to meet the needs of rural learners in her current work.”
The Virginia Tech School of Education is a global catalyst for individual and social transformation through education, applied research, and advocacy. With 20 degree and certificate programs, the school offers students a range of pathway to serve the greater good. To learn more, visit the school’s website, or find the school on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
For more information about research projects in the School of Education, visit the research section of the school’s website.
Written by Sharon Flynn Stidham