Musings of a Southern Belle

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 10 2013

On Watching My Kids SOAR!

A student's thoughts from the SOAR conference

Yesterday, I took some of my students to the SOAR conference with the movers and shakers of my region to discuss opportunities for saving our region in the face of the decline of our biggest employer and the driver of our economy. It was an amazing experience to hear from so many of the people who can actually create change and to hear their call for a unified region with the same goals in mind: Find new, innovative ways to create jobs, stop the brain-drain and encourage entrepreneurship. There were talks from people in a similar region who had helped to revitalize their community as well as inspirational stories of success and change that are already going on in our region. One thing that came up over and over again was the necessity of having a well-educated population who could readily be available to join the workforce if it moved into our region. It was noted, by one of my students, that this is not currently the case because we (as a whole region) are not providing our students with the rigorous education that more affluent students in other parts of the state are getting, nor are we being able to provide them with the same opportunities for advancement due to a lack of funding. We also suffer from apathy and a sense of low expectations from teachers toward students, low expectations from some parents and then low expectations from the students themselves. Building upon that issue, when opportunities do arise, this student pointed out that only certain students get them and they are usually the same students with connections either in the school or in the community. She had an epiphany, although not eloquently worded and in what came across in a somewhat negative light, that she lives in a place of educational inequity and she does not think that’s fair. She stood up in front of hundreds of influential people from the region to ask for access to the same education that her more affluent peers get. I didn’t coach her before she got up on stage and I didn’t tell her what to say (I was actually in the bathroom until she was at the podium). She found her voice, and she bravely stood up and used it to draw attention to one of the foundational issues that is holding our region back – we will never be as successful as other parts of our state until we start providing our students with the same resources, opportunities and rigor because they ARE the future. They are not just the ones who will be employed, but the can become future EMPLOYERS if we just give them the opportunities to be creative, to be entrepreneurs, to give them the foundational skills they need and most importantly, to give them hope, optimism and a reason to STAY in our region when they graduate, instead of migrating out. If all of the people who have left the region to better themselves would come back, become teachers, open businesses, mentor students, partner with their communities and expand the minds of young people for what could be possible for them, our region could thrive. My goal is not to create that change – to bring back the brain-drain and revitalize the region – my goal is to give each and every one of my students the platform to have an educated opinion and a VOICE to speak about what they are lacking, what they deserve and what they want their future to be. I am not telling them what to say, think or do. They are not puppets, and anyone who thinks so is disrespecting them and the amazing intelligence and insight that they already contain at age 14. I am not programming them into TFA robots, and I would never do that or even want to do that to them. What I am is a tool of empowerment – I am helping them to own the places they go by owning the future they want to have and knowing what’s out there for them and where they are in comparison to everyone else. I am so proud to be their teacher and to realize, along with them, that we are learning and growing every day as we become more aware of the things that are happening to/around us, the things we say and the affect that all of that can have on others, our communities and our region. Below are some of the notes they took at the conference as well as some insights on what they think should happen to help our region SOAR. (I may update this post with more student work when I get it!)

Ways to Improve Appalachia

  • Marketing the good qualities of Appalachia to companies
  • Encouraging people to start businesses
  • offering better training for people who have/want to start a business
  • improving/expanding the road systems such as the Hall Rogers Parkway to improve connectivity and tourism
  • encouraging companies to expand
  •  encourage companies to invest in the education of southeastern Kentuckians instead of bringing in people from other locations by marketing our unique qualities
  • improving the education of students so they are encouraged to go to college
  • creating opportunities for college graduates so they are encouraged to come back
  • finding an alternative resource(s) in Kentucky that can replace coal in the economy
  • encourage the creation of drug rehabilitation/mental health centers in Appalachia to deal with the influx of these cases in Kentucky rather than out of state

A student's thoughts from the SOAR conference

"Students need to be strong mentally to prepare for negative feedback"

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