BOONE, N.C. — Through its grant-funded project “Roots and Routes: Stories of Migration in the High Country,” Appalachian State University is providing an avenue for High Country Hmong refugee and Latinx migrant families to share their stories and histories, as well as their contributions to Western North Carolina.
Dr. Shanan Fitts and Dr. Greg McClure — both faculty in the Reich College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction — received $19,269 in grant funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council, as well as $50,077 in matching funds from App State, in support of the digital storytelling project.
“For decades, migrants and refugees to North Carolina have helped to build our roads, grow our food and care for our elders, but their stories and humanity remain invisible to many residents. Their experiences and voices are missing from our schools, libraries, museums and other cultural venues,” Fitts said.
As part of the project, Fitts and McClure led a series of workshops in July 2021 in which Latinx participants shared, explored and learned from each other’s migration experiences, producing a video capturing their experience in the process. Latinx is the gender-neutral term for people of Latin American origin or descent.
The workshops culminated in a presentation of the participants’ videos and discussions, and Fitts and McClure shared the participants’ videos — along with the project’s curriculum — at App State’s 2021 Research and Creative Activity at Appalachian virtual event, hosted by the Office of Research, and the university’s 2021 Global Symposium, hosted by the Office of International Education and Development.
For the project curriculum, Fitts and McClure developed the program based on the principles of popular education, a community-based approach to education that recognizes individual experiences as important and powerful sources of knowledge.
“People’s stories are expressions of their lives,” McClure said. “By making connections to others’ stories, we come closer to understanding how they experience the world and increase our capacity for empathy.”
‘Roots and Routes’ at App State’s Academy at Middle Fork
Liliana Martinez ’19 ’20, a fourth grade teacher at the Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork, helped facilitate a few of the “Roots and Routes” workshops, sharing her own experiences and stories. She also brought this community building project to her academy classroom.
After participating in the project, Martinez has placed a larger emphasis on community building in her classroom by incorporating some of the games and activities from the workshops into her social-emotional learning curriculum.
Additionally, she has scheduled a time every day for students to create through writing or drawing — exploring any topic of interest. While not required, students have the opportunity to share their creations with the class in order to teach and inspire each other.
As a result, many students have sharpened their drawing skills, gained research skills and furthered their writing skills, Martinez said.
“Sometimes students will draw characters from their favorite shows, write a narrative about an event that impacted them, create Google Slides about their favorite animals or create comics about their everyday life,” Martinez said. “It has become a time that students look forward to every day.”
In addition to the classroom activities, a digital stories workshop inspired by the “Roots and Routes” workshop is being planned for families of English language learners at the academy, Martinez shared.
App State’s “Roots and Routes” project will continue this spring and summer, with a focus on sharing the experiences of Hmong and Hmong American people in Western North Carolina. The Hmong people are an ethnic group from China and Southeast Asia. Largely, U.S. Hmong are those who emigrated from the Asian country of Laos in the 1970s, following the Vietnam War, and their descendants.
Fitts and McClure are currently seeking participants for the 2022 round of workshops. For questions about the project, or if you are interested in participating, contact Fitts at firstname.lastname@example.org or McClure at email@example.com.
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About the Department of Curriculum and Instruction
The Department of Curriculum and Instruction offers a broad range of comprehensive degree programs at the baccalaureate and master’s levels. The department seeks to provide quality programs that emphasize the integration of academics and field experiences. Learn more at https://ci.appstate.edu.
About the Reich College of Education
Appalachian State University offers one of the largest undergraduate teacher preparation programs in North Carolina, graduating about 500 teachers a year. The Reich College of Education enrolls more than 2,000 students in its bachelor's, master's, education specialist and doctoral degree programs. With so many teacher education graduates working in the state, there is at least one RCOE graduate teaching in every county in North Carolina. Learn more at https://rcoe.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.