“No, you are the Man”: Summer Internship, Girls Empowerment, and STEM Education in High Rocks, WV
Intern at High Rocks this summer to empower young folks in West Virginia by providing STEM-oriented education programs.
Susan Burt had had enough. After working for eighteen years as a public middle school teacher in West Viginia, too many female students would backslide later in high school, losing their youthful spark and passion. She quit in 1996. That same year, she began the High Rocks Academy of Hillsboro, WV, an educational retreat program, with thirteen girls. According to Burt, on the first day of camp “it rained, and it rained, and it rained, and it rained.” She gathered the girls in a treehouse.
As they looked to the lights of the faraway town, she said, “Everyone down there thinks we’re going to come down. Do we want to prove them right, or do we want to tough it out for the two weeks?” Needless to say, they toughed it out.
Twenty-six years later, the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship sponsors a years-old summer internship opportunity with the thriving educational program for young folks in West Virginia, which focuses on STEM learning for ages 12-29. High Rocks aims to forge “pathways out of poverty” and create “educated, nimble, hungry minds” by “turning what-ifs, if-onlys, and why-nots into nothing short of true.” Sounds lofty, yes, but their children’s futures speak for themselves. Of the 5,000 young folks High Rocks takes in each year, 70% are from low-income backgrounds, and of the percent that go on to college, half are first-generation.
For Joanna Burt-Kinderman, Class of ‘98 and former High Rocks program director, High Rocks is her life. As the daughter of Susan Burt, she learned at an early age that all children deserved the resources usually reserved for those deemed gifted. That was the issue Susan Burt pinpointed in West Virginia’s education system: not enough opportunities for not enough kids. Learning takes place in both directions at High Rocks. Teachers become the students on a daily basis and vice versa. Their resources: the great outdoors.
Students hoping to work with High Rocks can expect a culture shock when they arrive, just as someone from High Rocks would experience culture shock on Haverford’s campus. Such was the case for Ms. Burt-Kinderman. She felt the shock on the Blue Bus when she overheard a student discussing her Habitat for Humanity trip to West Virginia in a county neighboring her own. “All of these neighbors collected hubcaps decorated as underpinning,” Joanna said, noting the person she overheard thought these hubcaps were proof of their poverty and not a cultural tradition. “I felt for the first time a rage that made me feel really unwelcome.”
She used the story to emphasize the point that learning must happen both ways for summer interns to function at High Rocks. “One thing I learned in contrast [is the] difference in assumption of agency,” she said. “Students at Haverford assume that they have a say in the system, and that’s not always true in places like Appalachia in general, in cultures that are historically extractive-based.” Prospective summer interns take note; it’s a learning experience for you, too.
“I just think it’s really important to almost have on a shot-collar of checking yourself,” Joanna said. “I think you have to be so aware of moments in which you are trying to help and really listen to yourself of whether your definition of help means forming someone towards your own image or opinions or whether trying to help means building someone’s ability to listen to themselves.”
For any summer intern hoping to combat social injustice, entrenched power, and the Man, Ms. Burt-Kinderman has this to say: “No, you are the Man in this interaction.” For High Rocks to be the “magnetic force for positivity” it aspires to be, summer interns should expect hard work, hard learning, and hard privilege checks. That said, “The opportunity to work at High Rocks right now,” said Ms. Burt Kinderman, “is really enormous on some real substantive things that can launch a person into policy directions and certainly into community organizing and education.”
Students interested in participating in a summer internship with High Rocks can submit an application to the CPGC before February 13, 2022. Visit the CPGC Fellowship Page or schedule a meeting with a CPGC Staff Member for more information.