The Best of Buena Vista

Academic Enrichment Grant 2019-2020 Project Summary

Rishi Richardson

Parry McCluer High School • Buena Vista, VA

For almost 50 years Buena Vista, VA has boasted that their community has “6002 happy citizens and three old grouches.” Residents take pride in this delightful little moniker. People debate who the grouchiest residents are, and they ride in the Labor Day Parade. However, discussion in town is not always lighthearted fare. Often, many of the residents express critical opinions toward any forward motion. Buena lost its most positive voice when the local newspaper closed in 1986. Unfortunately, one resident recently said, “You only have to be in town for five minutes to discover there is a strong negative vibe.” To be fair, Buena Vista has survived despite the odds. In 1969 and again in 1985, floods devastated the town. In the resulting economic downturns, industries and businesses relocated elsewhere. With their departure, historic buildings were demolished, and some residents became despondent. Recently at Parry McCluer High School (PMHS), which serves all of Buena Vista, students responded to the principal, Ms. Melissa Cobb, as if they were one of the three grouches. When asked how they viewed their school, the students said they did not understand why parents and grandparents had so much “Fighting Blue” pride. They don’t see anything to be proud of in the school or community. Rishi Richardson, PMHS media specialist and professional storyteller, is working with the high school administration to change that vibe this year by promoting student achievement through weekly student broadcasts. With the McCarthey Dressman Academic Enrichment Grant, the current program can expand to include more students, involve the community, and celebrate the “Best of BV”. Richardson and Cobb believe that they can empower both students and the community with a new, positive, perspective. Optimism is contagious. Students, paired with an adult mentor who lives or works in Buena Vista, will find businesses, industries, city officials, event organizers and others who have made a positive community impact. Each partnership will interview these entities, listen to their stories, and write a narrative to appear on a social media platform every weekday from September through May. The educational leaders expect this regular pattern to engage the small-town community through encouraging the positive. Many engaging activities exist to encourage. Citizens have created the Buena Vista Arts Council (BVAC). High school athletes have won multiple sports’ state championships. One of the fastest growing universities in the nation resides here. As students spotlight “the Best of BV”, they will strengthen writing skills, practice responsibility and accountability, for each partnership will receive an honorarium for a successfully completed narrative assignment. Working with the arts council, mentors with writing experience will be selected. Already, several individuals have been identified. Some have experience writing for newspapers, both on the local and national level. Sports, art, academics, business, city government, events, nature, hiking, and personal topics can be covered. This program will expand academic opportunities for students while improving community relations. As the students become progressive storytellers, they will also stem the negative vibe and recreate a community of 6002 happy citizens.

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