December 17, 2012 10:32:25 AM
Debbie Vanderford's fifth grade classes at Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary are pretty diverse.
From race to socioeconomic status to gender, the diversity in the two classes makes for some unique stories. So when it comes time to submit her classes' personal narratives to the Mississippi Writing/Thinking Institute for the Rural Voices Radio program, Vanderford's biggest problem is simply getting the students to write something, anything, down.
"One thing that is consistent is this whole mindset change that I see happen every year," Vanderford said. "They come to me saying, 'I can't write, I'm not a writer,' but by the time they are finished, they leave saying, 'I am a writer, I can do this.'"
Vanderford has been submitting her students' narratives to Rural Voices Radio for several years, and this year, five of her students were selected to record their stories at Mississippi State University's Bost Center.
Mississippi Public Radio, in partnership with the Writing/Thinking Institute, airs the students' stories throughout the year.
Tanner Moore, Abigayle Green, Rebecca Pan, Kyra Warnock and Caroline Nobles were all selected for stories they wrote at the beginning of this semester.
"It's a big deal when they get selected," Vanderford said. "I sent two classes of 43 kids and just five were selected."
Five to six times a year, the Rural Voices Radio program has master teachers comb through narratives from students of all ages and across the state, looking for stories of "home, place and Mississippi," according to the program's website.
Students whose pieces are selected are given some light coaching and rehearsal time and are then asked to record their stories so they can be aired on MPR at a later date.
"They got to go to MSU last week, and they went into a sound booth and got to record; you could just see their faces light up," Vanderford said. "That was really cool for them."
But Pan, whose story, "Goodbye Missouri," centered on a nerve-racking move from Missouri to Mississippi, said the recording was actually a strange experience for her.
"Recording was okay, I guess," Pan said coolly. "But (the booth) just reminded me of a closet, and I messed up a few times. I had to say it again and again, but I think they edited that out. Hopefully. I'm only sort of excited about hearing it on the radio."
Ironically, Green, who wrote about when she found out she was getting a baby brother rather than a baby sister, spoke about that brother's infatuation with the recording booth.
"I found out he really likes soundproof rooms," Green said. "We had a hard time getting him out of there. He kept trying to hold onto my leg to stay in the room."
Writing is something Green, Warnock and Nobles all said they could see themselves doing in the future but were unsure in what capacity.
Nobles, who wrote about a funny incident that involved her family trying to get a squirrel out of their house, said what she took away from the whole process was simple.
"I learned that really we should just write," Nobles said. "Write whatever you want to write about, just write."
Both Warnock and Moore wrote stories with a little less levity, each writing about being saved by a parent.
Trying to remember such traumatic experiences was difficult for Warnock and Moore, who both admitted to having some help from their parents with remembering the details.
"It happened when I was little, too," Warnock said. "I had to ask my dad for some help remembering some stuff, but when Mrs. Vanderford played us some of the stories from last year and one was similar to mine, I knew that is what I wanted to do. I was pretty happy with how mine turned out."
Moore agreed with Warnock, saying adding the extra details was the most time-consuming aspect of the process. Figuring out what story he wanted to write was easy though.
"My story was about a time I was choking at Umi and my mom had to save me," Moore said. "It took almost half a minute to get the food out of my throat, so it was definitely the most memorable moment I had; the story just stuck out."
Vanderford said selecting a story idea is usually pretty daunting for the students, but for those who really struggle to come up with an idea, she asks them, "What do you like to do?"
"You have some that have all these life experiences: going to Disneyland, going to the beach; then you have children that have never been outside of Oktibbeha County," Vanderford said. "This shows them that everyone has something meaningful to write about, whether its tailgating at MSU or dinner at grandma's house or squirrel hunting."
The students' stories will air in the spring on MPR. For more information visit mwti.msstate.edu/radio.