In Appalachia, Going Back to School Reveals New Realities


The start of a new school year can be a stressful time, but it’s also a season of transition, and of new beginnings. In this episode of Inside Appalachia, we hear the conclusion to Crystal Snyder’s Struggle to Stay story, as she juggles school, work and family responsibilities. And we travel to McDowell County, where people are exploring new ways to deal with a chronic teacher shortage. 

Us & Them: Hillers Versus Creekers

Remember the cliques that divided up kids at your high school?

You probably remember the people who bullied you throughout school. It may not have been violent or excessive, but mostly everyone has had unkind words or names slung their way. On this episode, we listen to the Us and Them podcast, as host Trey Kay revisits classmates from his high school to re-explore an ongoing divide between two groups, the hillers, and the creekers.

Watch a live performance of the “Hillers & Creekers” episode as part of the PRX Catapult Podcast Showcase.

Appalachian Communities Struggle with Teacher Shortages

And in McDowell County, schools can’t find enough teachers. And the problem is getting worse, as the economy continues to decline in the coalfields. We hear part of a recent documentary called “Keeping Teachers”, from the Educate Podcast, by APM reports. 

"We are putting many teachers in our classrooms that are quality people, but they're not certified in that particular content area. We're not doing our students justice when we don't have qualified teachers."-Nelson Spencer, superintendent of McDowell County Schools.


Credit Emily Hanford / APM Reports
APM Reports
Ann and Briane Turley lived in housing in McDowell County developed especially for teachers.

The Struggle to Stay

We check back in with a woman who you might recognize. Her name is Crystal Snyder, and her story is part of our ongoing series The Struggle to Stay.

During the past few weeks, we’ve heard about the struggle Crystal has faced as she juggles school, work and parenting. On this week’s episode, we’ll hear the conclusion to her Struggle to Stay story.

Watch a short video about Crystal Snyder

Personal Message From Inside Appalachia Host Jessica Lilly:

My mother insisted that her kids wore nice, name brand clothing. I never worried about someone making fun of my clothes because she worked at a department store and would frequently come home with the latest styles. She always watched the sales closely. 

Don’t get me wrong, middle school classmates found other ways to exclude me, but clothing was never one of them. No, we weren’t rich, but I kind of dressed like I was. It made me feel confident and worthy of pursuing my dreams.


Credit Kara Lofton

My mom drove two hours both ways almost every day to work – yea so she could make a little money. But perhaps more than that, it was a way to protect us from the perception of being poor, and being ridiculed for it, like she was. I never, ever felt poor. We lived in a home built at the turn of the century with holes in the floor and walls with limited heat. But I never felt poor. And for those who didn’t visit my house, they never knew any different. And eventually, she even found a way to move us into a brand new home, but maybe that story is for another show.  

Kids are mean, but so are adults. I’ve grown comfortable in finding good deals on nice clothes. But finding value in these items might make me seem shallow, or materialistic, but the way others pass judgment on me, I’m learning, is not my problem.

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from the Us and Them Podcast, also from West Virginia Public Broadcasting, and APM Reports.

Music in this episode was provided by Marisa AndersonDinosaur Burps, Andy Agnew Jr., and Ben Townsend.

Inside Appalachia is produced by Jessica Lilly and Roxy Todd. Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Claire Hemme helped with our digital correspondence. You can find us online on Twitter @InAppalachia