But to the survivors, writing these stories gives them a voice to speak about their experiences, and take them one step closer to standing on their own two feet.
And while these women, residents of the Family Service Association of Howard County’s domestic violence shelter, learned computer skills they can use for future employment or college admissions, they gained something even more personally valuable.
“This is part of the women becoming empowered to speak,” said Christina Romero-Ivanova, Indiana University Kokomo acting assistant professor of education. “This is part of them transitioning from the shelter, to independence.”
For six weeks, future teachers in her Computers in Education class spent a few hours each week at the shelter, working one-on-one and in small groups with residents, teaching them the skills they need to tell their stories on PowerPoint, using words, pictures, and music.
While the School of Education students helped the residents, they also gained insight into what it is like to be a teacher, and why it’s important to connect with students, who have challenges outside of the classroom, or may not be enthusiastic about learning.
Cybil Johnson, Kokomo, learned that lesson personally, working with a woman who wasn’t interested in digital storytelling at first.
“Personal connection is huge,” she said. “When I shared my story, and the obstacles I’ve overcome to get where I am, it gave her a better understanding of me. I watched her whole demeanor change. She hadn’t wanted to participate, but now she’s finished her digital story, and she’s excited and wants to share it with others. I shared my story, and it changed her whole perspective.”
It’s also a good reminder for future teachers that they need to look beyond what they see of their students in the classroom, and not jump to conclusions about them.
“The next person you walk by, you have no idea what they’ve gone through in their life,” Johnson said. “These women aren’t victims, they’re people. When you get labeled, that’s where the stereotype comes in. We’re helping them tell their stories, to break away from the stereotype of the battered woman. This gives them the chance to show they aren’t victims, they’re survivors.”
Each student first developed her own digital story, along with tutorial programs to teach Microsoft PowerPoint to a shelter resident. In weekly visits, they shared their stories, then taught each woman the skills to tell her own story, in slides of text, pictures, and music. The women choose which parts of their stories to tell, with some focusing on their hobbies, others on how they came to the shelter, and others telling of their future plans.
They sit in groups of twos or threes, with the shelter clients seated in front of the computers, typing, cutting, and pasting, with guidance from the IU Kokomo students. One woman clicks through pages of pictures of Appaloosa horses, until finding just the right one to include in her story, which shares her love of horses.
“That’s the one, that’s a winner,” she says, breaking out in a huge smile as she copies it from the page, and successfully inserts it in her document.
“You’ve got that down pat,” the IU Kokomo student cheers, prompting another smile.
“I’m kind of smart like that,” the woman says, clearly proud of her progress.
The IU Kokomo students can apply what they learned to their own classrooms, according to sophomore Mariah Yochum, from Rochester.
“It gave us the one-on-one perspective of how to connect with someone and make them feel comfortable with us, which is a vital part of being a teacher,” she said. “It’s not just about the product of a digital story. It gives us the tools we need to reach out to our students.”
Hailee Scheffer, a freshman from Marion, said the experience also taught them how to meet the needs of each student.
“Everyone comes from a different background,” she said. “You have to figure out what works for each student, and individualize your teaching process. It really gave us the demographics of a classroom, where we will have students from all walks of life. You have to go the extra mile for each one, no matter where they come from.”
Romero-Ivanova received an IU Kokomo Women of the Well House grant to fund the program, with the goal of helping the shelter clients transition to independence and be ready to succeed in college or the workforce.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.