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Helping Appalachian Girls Find the Path to College

Stories by mountain girls from the PAGE program are featured this week on WUNC.

Part of the Duke in North Carolina Series
Deborah Hicks-Rogoff helps with Madison County girls get a step up in finding a pathway to college.
Deborah Hicks-Rogoff helps with Madison County girls get a step up in finding a pathway to college.

Growing up in a small town in the North Carolina mountains, Deborah Hicks-Rogoff knew next to nothing about college.

Now a research scholar at Duke, Hicks-Rogoff was a serious straight-A student. But her father, an electronics technician and TV repairman, had never been to college. Her mother, who stayed home to raise her two children, hadn’t either.

“I was a working-class girl,” Hicks-Rogoff said. “I had no idea how to go to college, and no help figuring college out,” Hicks-Rogoff said.

Someone in her high school spotted the smart, quiet student as having college potential. She was offered a scholarship through the American Association of University Women to Brevard College, a small liberal arts college in her hometown.

“It was very flukey,” Hicks-Rogoff said. “I can’t remember how it came about, and I don’t remember applying for anything.

“I just remember this moment where I realized ‘Wow, I can go to college.’ The door opened.”

It’s not an overstatement to say that at that moment, her life changed course. At Brevard, Hicks-Rogoff fell more deeply in love with learning. She went on to do graduate work at Georgetown and Harvard, finally earning a Ph.D. in education.

Now she works to open doors for girls like the one she once was – smart Appalachian girls who may not know much about the road to college.

Deborah Hicks-LogoffHicks-Rogoff directs the Partnership for Appalachian Girls’ Education (PAGE), a partnership school-year programs for middle school girls in Madison County. Stories by girls from the program between Duke and the Madison County Schools. Founded in 2010, PAGE offers summer and are being featured this week on WUNC-FM (see accompanying story).

PAGE offers girls exposure to digital technologies of the sort that are important in the 21st century economy. The girls’ personal stories form the basis for sophisticated multimedia projects. Along the way, the girls gain experience with video editing, critical thinking and more. Hicks-Rogoff writes about PAGE and about her own educational journey in her 2013 memoir “The Road Out: A Teacher’s Odyssey in Poor America.”

Duke students contribute to the program. Each summer, six Duke undergraduates travel to the North Carolina mountains to take part in PAGE’s intensive summer program for middle school-age girls. (Read one Duke student’s account here.)

Duke undergraduates often continue their relationship with the PAGE girls once the summer program is done. They serve as mentors for the younger girls, connecting with them over Skype throughout the school year to talk about transitioning to high school, and offer insights about college life.

PAGE has grown since its founding in 2010, when it served a handful of middle-school girls. In June, Hicks-Rogoff travelled to the mountains to attend graduation ceremonies for that first set of girls. Out of four graduating seniors from the PAGE program, three are going on to college.

“To watch those girls walk across the stage – it made me feel proud,” Hicks-Rogoff said. “I’m proud of their success.”