WV History: Shattering Stereotypes

See the essays written by our students about the future of WV!

Middle school students at Morgantown Learning Academy (MLA) are immersed in a year-long, interactive history and geography unit that is taking them on a tour of West Virginia entitled “West Virginia History: Shattering Stereotypes.” MLA is pleased to work in partnership with the Mountain Stewardship and Outdoor Leadership School (Mtn SOL) and with support from the West Virginia Sierra Club, The Mountain Institute, the Heartwood Foundation, and Evening Star Productions. The unit is led by MLA instructor and Mtn SOL Director Jen-Osha Buysse, who holds a Masters degree in Forestry from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a PhD in Geography from West Virginia University.

“I am so excited to be leading this unit,” says Buysse.  “At MLA, we strive to make learning a hands-on experience. I wanted to help them build a sense of place and to expose them to the many accomplishments and points of pride in our state’s history. We are having an amazing year!”

MLA students began the school year learning about West Virginia geography by making a multi-layer map showing aspects such as forest cover, watersheds, and state resources. “To make our lesson hands-on, we took a 3-day field trip in September to The Mountain Institute, in Pendleton County. Our students were able to experience the geographic patterns we mapped first hand.”

While at The Mountain Institute, students put their mapping skills to the test and navigated as a group to the highest peak in West Virginia, Spruce Knob. They also camped under some of the darkest night skies in the Eastern U.S., viewed the extensive Red Spruce and northern hardwood forests, and learned about the devastating impact of timbering at the turn of the century.

Kellee Waddell, Education Coordinator at The Mountain Institute, believes the trip was a success. “My weekend with Morgantown Learning Academy was one of my favorites from the year. The students were bright, curious, considerate and just fun to be around. Jen and the parent chaperones turned the weekend into a true backcountry adventure by teaching the students how to set up tents and camp, and how to keep safe and take care of one another when you’re miles away from a town. I’m looking forward to our next adventure together.”

After returning to the MLA classroom, students learned about the early history of West Virginia, which led them on a 5-day adventure to Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, Virginia. Eve Ammons-Ward, MLA’s Director, is pleased with the unit, “Our students have been absolutely captivated by this unit. Being able to share so many national and state historic sites with our students is a priceless experience that our students will remember forever.”

Currently, students are learning about a very timely, and often-overlooked, topic: the West Virginia mine wars. With the PBS release of “The Mine Wars” as well as the new feature documentary Blood on the Mountain by Evening Star Productions, MLA students are excited to have their topic of interest in the spotlight. They were even invited as special guests to a reception at WVU’s Gluck Theatre for the showing of Blood on the Mountain by Evening Star Productions, who donated materials to support the class.

In just four weeks, the students will be traveling to Matewan to visit the site of the historic Matewan Massacre, visit the WV Mine Wars Museum, and meet actors playing the very people they are currently learning about for a research paper. To finish up the class, each student will write a persuasive essay about their visions for West Virginia moving forward. The essays will be published on the this website with funding from the Kindle Foundation.

Check out pictures from our adventures!

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Our WV History: Shattering Stereotypes class also was featured on WVU News!  Check it out: