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Coalfield Writers, a rural satellite of Marshall University Writing Project, is located in Logan, West Virginia. The satellite serves teachers from the southwestern Coalfields of West Virginia. These teachers are located geographically a minimum of 70 miles southwest of the university.
Marshall University Writing Project discovered two needs that initially lead to the development of Coalfield Writers Satellite.
The first need was site based. Teachers in Logan County had attended summer institutes, but needed sustained continuity to remain connected and grow in writing project work. Maintaining continuity for rural teachers was difficult because of their geographic distance from the heart of MUWP work, which occurred at the university. Site leaders needed to develop methods of keeping rural TCs connected.
The second need was related to Logan County schools, where the satellite partnership initially formed. The school system identified a need for long-term, locally based, teacher training and development in writing curriculum. Marshall University Writing Project could help them meet this need.
Geographical Challenges of our Area
Logan County, where the satellite partnership initially developed, is geographically located approximately 70 miles south from Marshall University. In flat lands with good highways, 70 miles is an easy commute. In the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, 70 miles along narrow, two-lane winding mountain roads, it is a minimum two-hour 1-way commute, making teacher attendance for after school continuity nearly impossible. Saturday attendance was also difficult, because it necessitated Logan teachers commit an entire day, rather than just the morning.
Our Story: Teachers Connect with the Site
In 1994 four Logan County teachers, Mary Hawkins, Paula White, Jane Long, and Lynn Mahon, spent the summer in Huntington attending the invitational summer institute (SI) for teachers at Marshall University. Their expenses (tuition and fees) were covered by Logan County schools. At the end of the SI these teachers returned to their classrooms renewed and re-energized, but more importantly, they returned with a passion to bring writing project to the teachers of Logan County.
They demonstrated to school system leaders that the money to support their participation in the summer institute was well invested by planning and implementing two 3-hour teacher inservice training sessions that fall.
These four teachers also invited other local teachers to attend university based continuity and training sessions, which helped pave the road for bringing the summer institute to Logan for the next two years.
The Site Connects with the Service Area
In 1995 Central West Virginia Writing Project (CWVWP), having seen the desire and commitment of Logan County teachers, negotiated with the school system to provide the invitational summer institute in the county. Because this institute was locally based, teachers in Logan County did not have to travel 4 hours daily, or leave home for an extended period of time to attend the summer institute. The summer fellows were excited to have quality writing instruction based in their home area.
A benefit to having the summer institute in the county meant that county curriculum leaders and central office personnel saw first hand, on a day-to-day basis, the kinds of quality writing instruction teachers were participating in. School system leaders weren’t left to wonder if their dollars were being wisely invested; they could and did drop in to observe the efforts of the summer fellows.
Another benefit to having the summer institute in the county was that the base of teacher consultants expanded to include teachers from kindergarten through university level. While there is no university in the rural area teachers from the local community college, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, also attended this local institute.
During the ’95 SI, teacher consultant Paula White served as demonstration coach, providing for her the opportunity to begin developing as a leader of teachers. Paula also began work with Director Fran Simone (CWVWP) in Project Outreach, an initiative where writing projects are asked to self-evaluate through the lenses of access, equity and diversity. Paula recruited a summer fellow, Elaine Grimmett, for Project Outreach work as well. These teachers were deepening their connection to the site with this experience.
When the fall school year began the local summer fellows worked to plan and implement a series of inservice training sessions for Logan County. They began learning how to be leaders of teachers themselves. This sounds small, and obvious, since it is the core of writing project belief. But on a practical level, our teachers had to learn some basic things like:
- how to secure the facilities and equipment needed for an evening inservice;
- how to complete paperwork so that the inservice could be approved for continuing
- how to advertise so that they would have teachers attending;
- how to schedule programs to accommodate timetables for secondary versus elementary
teachers, and a host of other practical concerns.
MUWP Site Deepens Its Connection with the Local Service Area
In the summer of 1996 Marshall University Writing Project built on the groundwork of the previous two summers, and brought the invitational summer institute back to Logan County.
Along with new fellows, several TCs returned, participating as advanced members, taking on leadership rolls. Tracy Baisden (a participant of the previous summer) and Mary Hawkins, who later became co-directors of the satellite, were part of the advanced group that summer, along with Paula White. The benefit of their working as part of an advanced group was that they became familiar with each other’s writing, thinking and working styles, laying a foundation for work they would later engage in together.
It is also important to our site’s story, to note that summer institute facilitators Rosemary Grant, Rosalee Hodges, and director Dolores Johnson felt this institute was a failure, because of the small number of participating teachers. Due to numerous local layoffs, the administrative realignment of teaching personnel, and Logan County School system having been taken over by the West Virginia State Board of Education, morale was at an all time low among Logan County teachers. Although the summer institute participants were small in number, their impact has been felt in site work since that summer.
The following school year found new and advanced TCs again planning a series of locally based inservices for Logan County teachers. The advanced TCs took the lead in organization, helping new TCs become familiar with the local framework for implementing continuing education programs and facilitating the necessary planning meetings. To this day several of the satellite’s most active TC leaders credit the fall inservice series of 95 and 96 with providing the impetus for their future involvement in satellite and site work.
According to Satellite Co-Director Diana Clay:
I attended a back-to-school inservice conducted by Tracy Baisden and others. They asked provided a series of photographs, and asked us to write about them. Even though I had previously used personal writing as a stress relief method, I had never thought about writing every day about ordinary things. That inservice opened a world of writing possibilities for me, and the students of my classroom (Consumer Sciences). From that point on I was hooked on Writing Project. I sought out the inservices produced by teacher consultant. It took several years for my personal circumstances to allow me to enroll in the summer institute, but as soon as I could, I did. I have been involved since that time.
That year’s fall follow up sessions for the summer institute were also held locally, as opposed to being conducted on the University campus, with TCs serving as hosts to the group, inviting summer fellows into their homes and local schools for continuity.
Logan County Teacher Consultants began questing for quality writing training. During the next 18 months, a core group of TCs, which included Mary Hawkins, Tracy Baisden, Paula White, Jane Long and Kathy Manley, traveled in pilgrimage to trainings around the state offered by MUWP, CWVWP, West Virginia University Writing Project (WVUWP), and other professional organizations. A benefit of this was that our county school system realized that teacher’s dedication and commitment to improving writing education in our local schools was strong. Logan County Schools had not invested in a one-shot program that did little to impact our teaching past the first few weeks after the session. It became clear to our county curriculum directors that writing project work is truly long term.
Deepening Teacher’s Connections to Core Site Work
In February 1997 MUWP received a Rural Sites Network Mini Grant. Site leaders asked Logan County TC Tracy Baisden to use the grant. To help her understand the scope of the work she was invited to attend the annual meeting in November 1997, an event that first helped her begin to think of writing project work in a broader sense. She began to understand that writing project work has implications far beyond the impact of the local service area.
During that time TCs Paula White and Elaine Grimmett continued working with CWVWP and Project Outreach, solidifying their view of the extended nature of writing project work in rural areas, and focusing their thinking on issues of access, diversity and equity for students and teachers. This is a focus that continues to inform the work of the satellite and site overall. An added benefit was the close ties established during this time period between the TCs in Logan with both sites that had brought summer institute into our area. Although Coalfield Writers is a satellite of MUWP, we are also connected to CWVWP, and enjoy close ties and partnerships with the leaders and TCs of that site through our state network.
Forming the Partnership
The fall of 1998 found a core group of TCs in Logan County now fully committed to the work of Marshall University Writing Project. We were anxious to hold summer institute in our area again. Inservices, continuing education programs, and student creative writing camps enticed the teachers in our service area, many of whom indicated that they wanted to participate in the summer institute, but they just couldn’t make the commitment to attend at the university. We also talked with county curriculum directors and administrators, and knew that they were willing to invest in writing project again, if either a summer institute could be arranged locally, or if teachers wanted to attend the SI at the university.
In leadership meetings the possibilities were discussed. We knew that we could reach many more teachers if we brought the institute to them in their home area, but the summer institute facilitators didn’t want to commit to the extended daily travel either. Imagine our surprise when director Dolores Johnson suggested that we hold a summer institute in Logan County ourselves. Did the questions ever fly that morning. How would that work? Who would do it? What would that kind of partnership look like? What would we have to do? What would be the steps? Dolores’ calm insistence that we “trust the process” forced us all to consider the idea from a number of perspectives. The answers we came up with were ultimately that the Logan TCs active on the MUWP leadership team would facilitate and direct the institute. We would ask Logan County to financially support the summer institute, and tie into the proposal a request for financial support for the creative writing camp program for the upcoming year.
Within a few weeks, after a flurry of emails and conference calls between our leadership team, we had a written a proposal to submit to the Logan County Board of Education. The proposal called for a one-year partnership establishing a satellite in Logan County, with a promise that at the end of the year the partnership could be re-evaluated and renewed or dismissed if either party felt it didn’t suit the identified needs. Logan County TC leaders met with the county Language Arts Supervisor, Dr. Pat Joe White, with superintendent of schools Ray Woolsey, and with members of the board of education. Along with the written proposal we gave each person a packet containing: samples of student writing from the classrooms of Logan TCs, a copy of a teacher research study produced by a TC, and a copy of the work Tracy Baisden produced during the mini grant research project she had conducted the previous year. Ultimately the county decided to adopt the proposal, and they provided the requested financial funding through the county’s staff development funds.
Growing the Satellite
Between the years of 1998 and 2004 the satellite (then called Logan County Satellite Site) began a slow and thoughtful process of growth. Using the funding available from Logan County Schools the site expanded, developing new programming as there were TC leaders and funding available. Each year the site reported to the county staff development council, detail the progress of the work in place. TCs were offered various opportunities for professional growth, including:
• Developing local programming
• Attending the NWP annual meetings and other national opportunities.
• Presenting at NWP annual meetings
• Serving on MUWP site leadership team
• Development and serving on Satellite leadership team
During this time satellite leaders began growing the satellite following the national model. It was the goal to provide: summer institute, (both invitational and open), continuity programs, and youth programs. Satellite leaders read NWP manuscripts, and studied the work of other sites, to find ways to adapt programs for local use, and to find ways to make the local investment of dollars do the most work. It is during this time that the satellite developed its continuing strategy of creating programs that do multiple work. For example, youth camps are promoted as youth programs to the public of the local area, but are in reality continuity and inservice programming for local teachers, using the model of the Marshall Plan Monograph.
Throughout this time a slow and steady growth occurred, with the site received increased funding from Logan County Schools each year.
A Satellite is Born
In 2004 Marshall University Writing Project was notified that it would be one of a small group of sites to received special funding from the National Writing Project, to support a rural satellite. This increase of funding allowed the satellite to expand its vision of service, and now the satellite’s service area includes not only Logan County, but also Mingo, Lincoln and Boone County Schools. Currently the summer institute and youth programs draw teachers and students from throughout the southwestern coalfields of West Virginia. While inservice still centers on Logan County Schools, continuity is reflective of the increased service area. The satellite’s name changed in 2004, to Coalfield Writers, another outward symbol of the expanded vision of the site.
At this time Coalfield Writers has an active Teacher Consultant leadership team of 30 members, with another 40 member pool of active TCs. The satellite has trained over 200 teachers through the summer institute and continues to deliver programming for teachers in a variety of settings and venues.
Founding co-director Mary Hawkins retired in October 2010, although she remains semi-active as co-director emeritus, participating a great deal in satellite support through the technology team.
As the satellite continues to weather change and growth, it is a testament to the power of giving voice and leadership opportunities to rural teachers.