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Arts & Culture

How More Appalachian Girls Will Tell Stories Because Of Open Source Software

Jacie Buckner (foreground) and Alexis Wills

Jacie Buckner and Alexis Wills are teenagers. Both grew up in the same Appalachian region of North Carolina. Jacie describes herself as quiet. Alexis says she is a rebel.  They met in middle school, when they ran into each other in the lunchroom. " I looked at Jacie and thought 'oh my goodness, she’s going to hate me!'"Alexis says.

The two bonded over a shared background of farming. One day Jacie's grandfather had an accident. He died and the family was stunned “I couldn’t talk about it, we were in shock,” Jacie says. But Alexis was one of the ones who understood. The two talked together. Jacie told stories of her grandfather and cried with her friend.

And then, exactly one year later,  in a strange twist of fate, Alexis's "Paw-Paw" died on the anniversary of Jacie's loss. 

The two used video to tell their story:

Jacie Buckner and Alexis Wills shared their story as a part of The Partnership for Appalachian Girls' Education (PAGE).

The project is run by Duke's Deborah Hicks. Hicks grew up in Western North Carolina. After she got her Ed.D., she made it a priority to work with young people in the region. She hopes to get girls in particular to see a future that includes high school graduation, and college.

Because the program is free for the girls who participate, Hicks looks for ways to cut her costs. She connected with Red Hat, which is known for its advocacy of open source tools. "Through Red Hat we are opening the door, exploring possibilities for open source software, so we don't have to spend our precious PAGE funds for software," Hicks says.

For example, rather than licensing Final Cut Pro to edit their stories, PAGE is looking into open source alternatives, programs like Kdenlive (video editing) and Blender (3D animation.)

Deborah Hicks talked about her decision on the blog. She says that because of this one decision, more girls will have a voice:

"Our program continues to rapidly expand in the Madison County, North Carolina area, and we have a vision of the program continuing to expand throughout the Appalachian region. Under the past way of doing things, license cost would have been a major component of our operating budget. As we grow and use open source, we can maintain the same experience, while spending money on the more impactful areas of the program. We can accomplish a big part of our mission—to teach adolescent girls 21st century technology and literacy skills—at a cost we can afford," Hicks says. "As PAGE expands over the coming years, the girls' digital learning lab projects will serve as testimony to the power of providing democratic access to cutting-edge technology resources—even in the smallest of rural mountain communities."

In addition, Hicks said in an interview that she hopes that access to open source technology will help the girls who go through her program, even beyond their participation in PAGE. "We feel [open source technology] is a part of a bigger picture thing for people living in rural Appalachia. That it will give them full access to the resources of technology."

Helping tell stories

Many girls have already told their stories using new media. You can browse the stories online. Here is one of our favorites. It's about how a young girl stopped seeing her birthmark as something to be embarrassed about. "I stopped trying to hide my birthmark, cuz I started to like being different. Why be ashamed just because someone doesn't like a part of me?"

PACE founder Deborah Hicks was interviewed in 2013 on WUNC's The State of Things. At the time, she had just written her book, "The Road Out: A Teacher's Odyssey in Poor America " (University of California Press/ 2013).:

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