In recent weeks, Amy Taylor has helped guide her students as they explore the experiences of others growing up and living in Appalachia.
An English and French teacher at Midland Trail High School, Taylor's English 11 and AP English Language classes are immersed in an Appalachian unit of study. They've undertaken several segments of the project, including reading "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls and "Don't Tell 'em You're Cold: a Memoir of Poverty and Resilience" by Katherine Manley. The students have also viewed Morgan Spurlock's "30 Days: Minimum Wage" and "30 Days: Working in a Coal Mine" as part of the class work. And, the AP students are also involved in exploring the current minimum wage.
Of the Walls and Manley's books, Taylor said, "Both of those stories are true stories, true accounts of their childhood of growing up in poverty in West Virginia."
Manley, a retired teacher from Logan County, put in a special appearance in Hico on Oct. 25 to visit with the classes. She conducted writing exercises with the two regular 11th-grade English classes, in addition to sharing some of her story and discussing the memoir, said Taylor.
The 7th-period AP class members read the memoir over the summer, interacting with it through the completion of a quotation project and visual representation of showcasing their lives in West Virginia, according to Taylor. In addition, they also just finished reading "The Glass Castle" as part of the Appalachian unit. Manley interacted with the AP class on Monday, discussing her memoir and the writing/publication process, and students had questions ready which they posted to a class discussion board on Schoology.
The study of the two books offered "a nice comparison to see the non-growth, I guess, of how things have not changed so much in our state," said Taylor. "Kids can still kind of put themselves in that reality, because some of them are still living very similar situations.
"I chose both books because of the dominance of coal and how much that industry really (dictated whether some families survived or not)."
"Meeting her was a great opportunity and experience," 11th-grade AP class member Sydney Sheets said last Tuesday of Manley. "I had previously read her book and I thought it was a great book that talks about pushing through despite the challenges you may face.
"The class got to come up with questions that we wanted to ask Mrs. Manley, and we were all able to ask those questions when she came to the school yesterday. This was definitely a great experience."
Fellow 11th-grade AP class member Ashley White said, "I was very excited meeting Katherine Manley. I feel that she is a very experienced person in many ways; she worked through very hard parts of her life, and she became an amazing author and teacher.
"Some main things I took away from her message is, never stop trying. She was a great example of how kids today can be going through things in life and still see the good in everything. She always remembered the good things about her life instead of letting the bad overcome her. One thing I found very interesting is how she answered our questions, she was always very detailed about every response."
"This was an amazing experience and I wish Katherine Manley the best," added White. "She is a big role model for people with similar stories."
Taking a dive into a study of the minimum wage has also been part of the class for the AP students.
"They are researching the policies and controversies surrounding minimum wage, and whether they think it should be increased or decreased, and the effects of either/or in regards to poverty or small businesses and things like that," Taylor said. The students conducted research and are currently beginning to write argumentative essays "on whether or not the minimum wage should be raised in the Mountain State to help curb poverty that our children continue to fight against," she noted.
"Currently, we are learning about minimum wage," White said. "We are learning about how it affects Americans and whether it should be raised or not. I hope to see families prosper and learn more about different solutions to this everyday problem.
"I feel that minimum wage should be raised. It is very hard living off $8.75; you cannot pay bills or pay for necessities you need in your everyday routine. ... I feel as a teen that we have a lot of disadvantages, and young adults are very unprepared to step into the real world."
"Currently we are learning about minimum wage and the effects that it has on the people who earn it," Sheets said. "I hope to learn and see if there is any way that we can help people who earn minimum wage. My eyes have definitely been opened to the struggles that many people face, so I hope to learn more about the families who go through these struggles every day.
"I personally think that we should come up with a way to raise the minimum wage. I feel like all families shouldn't have to struggle day-by-day to survive. Many people work very hard and should earn enough money to support themselves and their families. I knew people struggled, but until I did my research I didn't realize the extent of that struggle."
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