The JASP 2015 Scholarship Winners are Adrienne Berg (Woods Charter School, Chapel Hill), Anita Curry (Knox Middle School, Salisbury), Danielle Heider (Clayton High School, Clayton), and Patricia McMahan-Lara (Mitchell High School, Bakersville). Congratulations! Read about our fellowship winners below…
Adrienne Berg (Woods Charter School, Chapel Hill, NC):
The world in which our lives unfold colors everything. Jane Austen’s heroines experience a particular social hierarchy, expectations of decorum that dictate behavior, gender‐cued assignment of pastimes and interests. Bounded by propriety and practicality, their days unfold in an ordered and provincial scenario that still resonates with emotional tension, moral questions, and of course the desires of the heart. Everything that is “normal” for Emma Woodhouse, and Elizabeth Bennet, and Catherine Morland, is as alien as Gilgamesh to the 21st c entury high school readers I know.
That very context, central to Austen’s works, so contributes to her books and her characters that it is essential for contemporary young readers to understand it. Bringing elements of Regency culture into the classroom bridges the chasm between worlds, making the common concerns of all young adults, antique and modern, tangible.
I want to be inspired. I want to delve deeply into Jane Austen’s world. I want to play whist, and have tea, and dance like I have only read about so I can bring her world to life in my classroom. Students connect with classic literature when they feel the emotions, understand the jokes, and revel in the ironies of the relationships and repartee. When I can make those connections possible for my students, they engage and explore “new” books readily, curiously. The Jane Austen Summer Program offers a slate of fascinating opportunities for me to learn more about both Emma and Jane, their world, their lives, and what aspects I can exploit in my teaching.
I envision taking the JASP activities directly to my students, to immerse them in their reading, to translate the customs and social norms of the early 1800s into something relatable. By bringing literary characters into their lives, I, the teacher, can help them forge connections to literature and make greater meaning of what they read. By sharing in experiences, students become more aware and invested in their studies.
My hope is that the JASP will help me foster vibrant, personal experiences reading Jane Austen for my students. As a woman and an author, Jane Austen holds a singular place in the Pantheon of British literature, and I feel compelled, most fervently, to share her work with the next generation.
Anita Curry (Knox Middle School, Salisbury, NC):
I am interested in attending the Jane Austen Summer Program because I know it will not only broaden the horizons of my teaching, but it will also broaden my student’s interest in reading. I teach at a small school and know that the area where my students live is even smaller. I have introduced books to my eighth graders this school year that I know they would not have chosen for themselves. Jane Austen is not an author that my students would willingly, on their own, choose to read. With the JASP scholarship, I can benefit from the interactive lessons and experience and bring it to my students the next year. I have not had the honor to attend a Jane Austen Summer Program before, so I am really excited at the thought of attending this year. I have not had the chance to take dance lessons and I am curious to see how that goes as well. At this point, I will be able to tell my students that I am doing something new, just like them.
I continuously show my students that at my age I still read and write. They need to see their teacher being a student and feeling the same emotions they do when a text is complex or hard to grasp. My students have come to expect me being an entertainer and making a difficult text easier to comprehend. I hope they pass that information to future students of mine so I can gain their trust as well. I am looking forward to making the real world connections with the text, conducting annotating sessions, and having detailed conversations with my future students. Emma has the storyline that present day students could appreciate and understand because some of the novel contains something they have experienced in their lifetime. I would love to be chosen for the scholarship to bring this story to life for my students and attending the Jane Austen Summer Program can make that possible for me.
Danielle Heider (Clayton High School, Clayton, NC):
I am a lover of all things Austen. The hats, the banter, the silly characters, and the heartbreaking patience involved in reading her—all of it is right up my alley. As an undergraduate at UNC, I took Professor Inger Brodey’s honors section on Austen in film, and had the pleasure of producing my own piece of Sense and Sensibility in the courtyard of the Carolina Inn.
That said, I am also a high school teacher, and as such, I dread teaching Austen. I want my kids to love her as much as I do, and it’s particularly heartbreaking to watch kids tune out of something that means so much to me personally. I can dress her up, show movie clips, expound on my own unrequited love for Mr. Knightley, and take on an affected accent with a relative level of success, but when it comes to sitting down and reading her, things fall apart.
I want to attend this symposium so that I’ll look forward to teaching Austen as much as I enjoyed reading her. I hope to use this symposium to make my understanding and delivery of her craft more accessible to my students, and maybe mediate some of the trauma involved in failing to get my kids to love something that means so much to me.
Paulette McMahan-Lara (Mitchell High School, Bakersville, NC):
I am an English and Latin teacher of fifteen years at Mitchell High School in Bakersville, sixty miles northeast of Asheville, nestled in the heart of the beautiful Blue Ridge. I am the local color who has returned to teach her kith and kin. In the prior fifteen years, I was in the private sector, another world, one which lacked the nurture and care of literature. Fortunately while there, I was able to craft the financial means to travel the world before I came home again. And fortunately I have been able to return to literature and to share my experiences of other worlds and other possibilities with my students.
I also am able now to teach that literature has the power to transport, to move, to change, to grow, to enlighten, to enrich, to save us without ever leaving home. It is the other world, the other possibility. This is the discovery that I share with my students, the one that I discovered in public school with the help of a teacher.
I feel that an important part of what I have to offer as a teacher to students who are isolated still by the poverty and the homogenous, clannish nature of Appalachia is this hope that is found in literature and that I am able to serve as a living proof that there are other worlds, other possibilities for the young people coming from this area of little hope sometimes.
I have been able to share my love and appreciation of good and great literature, teaching both standard and honors English classes, as well as AP classes. I would welcome and appreciate the opportunity to be better able to bring the world of Jane Austen and Restoration England to my students. Jane Austen is so rich in possibilities. I need to know these intimately and be prepared to share the wisdom to be found in her work. I would be honored to spend time at one of the state’s finest institutions with other Anglophiles and take tea in a civilized manner again. Thank you for making this a possibility.
The winners of the 2014 JASP Teacher Scholarship are Valerie Person of Currituck County High School in Barco, NC and Christina Geradts of St. Thomas More Academy in Raleigh, NC. Congratulations! The winners received full tuition for the Jane Austen Summer Program 2014. These two scholarships were funded by the proceeds of last year’s silent auction, and were organized by Ronnie Jackson. Thank you, Ronnie!
Below are excerpts about their experiences teaching Austen in High School.
Valerie Person: “I teach primarily English II and AP Literature and Composition to seniors at Currituck County High School in Barco, NC. Last summer, I attended the first Jane Austen Summer Program which highlighted Pride and Prejudice and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was able to attend with a colleague who teaches with me, and traveling together helped reduce our costs. This year, I would like to attend but if I do, I will be attending by myself. Although I enjoyed all of the program last year, two parts stand out in their helpfulness to me as an ELA teachers. Having the small group discussions with grad students over the four days was awesome. I took copious notes and considered so many aspects of P and P that I was able to bring home to my students. We read P and P in AP Lit and Comp. I’ve not taught Sense and Sensibility before, but if the program with it is even close to what I experienced with P and P last summer, I would very much want to try it with my AP Lit and Comp students. I love being a learner myself, experiencing a new work of literature as a newbie, just as my students do. It keeps me humble and reminds me of what it’s like from their perspective to read and analyze a text.
The second part of the program that directly benefitted my students was learning some of the dances for the ball we had. I was able to share some of the steps of the dances with students, and that combined with what we were able to Youtube made it possible for my AP Lit students to learn a dance as we were reading the novel. As a creative teacher, I aim to help bring a novel to life for students. Their engagement increases ten-fold when they view the characters and conflicts beyond the pages of ink. Virginia Woolf said that teaching without zest is a crime. Receiving a scholarship to attend this summer’s Jane Austen Summer Program would give me the resources to add more zest to the Jane Austen unit I teach. Specifically, I would like to have my students hold a ball in the unit this next year and invite other students and teachers to attend. Participating in the Jane Austen Summer Program will equip me with resources to do just that.”
Christina Geradts: “I currently teach Ancient Literature (9th grade) and Modern European Literature (11th grade) at St. Thomas More Academy in Raleigh, NC. In my junior class, we read Austen’s Mansfield Park each year, and it is always a highlight for me. It’s actually one of my very favorite novels, but I remember completely disliking it the first time I read it, as Fanny Price infuriated me. I then came to realize that the reason for this is because I am actually very similar to Fanny, and I saw a lot of her flaws in myself. It’s a longer story than there’s room for here, but the point is that I find it [my initial experience with Mansfield Park] helpful to relate to students who do not like the book and are having a tough time with it. I find that, generally, several students absolutely love Austen, and a good chunk absolutely does not. Regardless of students liking or disliking the text, one of my favorite things I have done for the past two years is dedicate a class period to pure, student-led discussion on the text, in conjunction with a tea party. Students bake scones and bring in tea, everybody sits down in a discussion circle, and for some reason, each year this provides the most fruitful discussion. I’m trying to find ways for the students to really connect with the characters and the lifestyle the novel portrays. I’m hoping that this conference will help give me a few more ideas of how to make Austen more accessible in the classroom. I am even considering offering an Austen elective next year at my school, so I am hopeful that this conference will help give me some ideas for that!