8th Graders Travel to Appalachian Symposium

Reed Gabhart, Head of Goshen Campus

After a two-week recess from jury duty, I am back in the Clark County Indiana Courthouse for the second week of a civil trial. And while I’d like to tell you it’s been a very “Hollywood” experience akin to Law & Order or something, it’s been a tad more boring (okay, a LOT more boring). On the other hand, it’s a first for me and a very real look into how the wheels of justice work. And it’s given me a huge appreciation for what I get to do, and who I get to spend my time with on a daily basis! After all, this is the real world, and as involved citizens, we all play our part.

Likewise, it also has reminded me how much we strive to expose our students to the real world, too. The Chinese acrobats who visited last week were a look into an artistic culture so very different than our own, and our kids were mesmerized. Parent Liz Cole came in during the performance and remarked to me, “This is why I love St. Francis; I come in and this is going on!” Next week, our 5th grade will take a field trip to visit the Kentucky legislative halls of democracy in Frankfort. And the following week, our 8th grade will make their annual pilgrimage to the wonderfully informative IdeaFest, where they will be exposed to great thinkers and innovators from all walks of life.  These are not your run-of-the-mill field trips, but truly eye-opening experiences outside of the regular classroom. Couple them with our outdoor education program and the upcoming trips to Pine Mountain and Big South Fork, and it’s easy to see that our students are given educational, ethical and personal challenges that are unparalleled.

Another such trip took place last week led by 6th grade Language Arts teacher Shelly Jones. She will “take over” my article from here on out while I return to ruminate over evidence … sigh. See you next week, and have a wonderful, well-deserved Fall Break!

By Shelly Jones, 6th Grade Language Arts Teacher

To say that Silas House is one of my favorite living Kentucky writers would be a bit of an understatement. Our Middle School students read the environmentally-conscious novel he co-authored with Neela Vaswani, Same Sun Here, in 6th grade, and in 8th grade they read his #1 Southern Indie best-selling novel, Eli the Good. His essays regularly appear in places like The New York Times. Often considered the major progressive voice of Appalachia, House champions the Berea_5Berea_2human rights of the diverse people who call the region home. This past July, I learned that House, who is also the NEH Chair in Appalachian Literature at Berea College, had organized a free conference hosting the largest-ever gathering of Appalachian writers. Being a huge fan of House and of Berea College for its history and mission as the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, and as a native Appalachian myself, I knew I needed to attend this conference. Downtown Campus faculty Cia White and Juan Ramirez and I invited four High School students, five 8th graders and Downtown parent Britta Stokes to join us. The first gathering of its kind, The Appalachian Symposium provided a rare, two-day opportunity to hear public conversations about the literature, music, history, politics, and culture of Appalachia. We heard panels discuss topics such as “The Personal and the Political: Is Activism an Inherent Part of Writing About This Place and Its People?” and “Country Badassery: Gender Roles in Appalachian Literature.” We participated in creative writing and poetry workshops with titles like “Bread, Butter, and Hot Rize: The Fundamentals of Writing Poetry.” Other highlights included the late-night, Bluegrass jam session at Happiness Hills Farm courtesy of high school students Olivia Ford, Christina Saliga and Emmaly Saliga. We relished opportunities to meet featured writers and critics like bell hooks, Erik Reece, Maurice Manning, Denise Giardina, Amy Greene and Crystal Wilkinson. We left the conference having learned a great deal from the talented writers and performers featured in the symposium. We all gained greater appreciation for the complexity of Appalachia. I’ll leave you with the 8th graders’ reflections on the Symposium:

“Going into the Appalachian Symposium, I didn’t really know what to expect. After the experience, however, I found myself knowing more about Appalachian culture and people. Getting to see people revered as local legends in their region was somewhat surreal. The ability to listen to these writers and musicians discuss their work and their views on regional politics, Appalachian stereotypes and how it affected themselves as writers, and the future of Appalachia. All of them seemed to have the same goal: to embrace their own culture and keep the traditions passed down to them while warding off stereotypical views and people who look to invade their region. Overall, the trip made me appreciate and understand Appalachian culture better along with its people, who strive to keep their region alive and thriving.
Lorenzo Mahoney, 8th Grade

“When I first heard about the Appalachian Symposium, I was expecting it to just be listening to sometimes boring lectures and for the speakers to seem very separated from everyone else. I was horribly mistaken. First off, it was very different to be able to see and talk to the authors who just spoke to us. I remember that I was sitting right next to one of the authors who was just about to speak. Also while some of the lectures got somewhat repetitive, the majority were very interesting and informational. I never really saw the connection between major politics and Appalachian writing. The writing and poetry workshops were very useful and got me to think about new strategies in making my writing different from others’. It was such a great opportunity to hear everyone talk about their own struggles and successes. I really appreciated the invitation to attend. This is something I will remember forever and will hopefully find eye-opening. Once again, I am really thankful for the chance to hear one of the biggest collection of Appalachian authors.
Drew Perkins, 8th Grade

I feel so privileged to have been able to go to the Appalachian Symposium in Berea. I thought it was so interesting to be able to meet so many amazing Appalachian writers. I loved hearing about the process of them writing and publishing their books and how much politics and stereotypes could affect that. One of my favorite subjects was hearing about the writers choosing to involve their dialect in their writing and the effects it has had on them. Each writer had such an amazing and different story to tell about writing about their culture. It was astounding to see how much passion they truly put into their work, especially when it came to helping Appalachia. They were all representing Appalachia in their own different ways, whether it was writing about mountaintop removal or their own family’s life in Appalachia. I’m honored to have been able to attend the Appalachian Symposium.
Amelia Dimas, 8th Grade

Thank you so much for providing us with the opportunity to go to Berea! I had a lot of fun and it was not at all what I expected. I thought that we would be sitting for several hours listening to a speaker drone on about uninteresting things — this assumption was completely incorrect. Sure, we had to sit for a while, but the topics were extremely engaging and inspirational. I also enjoyed going to the book signings and meeting with the authors. Just hanging out with my friends, the high schoolers and the teachers was lots of fun as well (the car ride was also very entertaining). Overall it was an inspirational, life-changing experience that made me fully understand the struggles of Appalachian writers and I’m very glad I decided to go.
Holly Yelton, 8th Grade