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Elementary Education

Written by Kate Peppiatt, '23.

When Darby Henn, a sophomore Elementary Education major, first stepped onto JMU’s campus, she instantly fell in love. She felt the “genuine care that people had for one another.” Now, as a member of Student Ambassadors and a First Year Orientation Guide, Darby works to help incoming students find their place at JMU. 

In addition to her membership in different campus organizations, Darby also found her place in Honors. She “loved the idea of being surrounded by people in different majors.” Honors gives her the opportunity to explore her passions, as well as the ability to complete an Honors Capstone Project. 

As evident with her on campus involvement, Darby understands the importance of finding your place--seeing yourself represented. This passion materialized itself into her “most impactful experience at JMU, working on [her] capstone project.” Darby began the project in her first year. With the support of Dr. Shin Ji Kang and Dr. Michelle Cude, she took the initiative to begin making her mark and making a difference. 

Darby’s project focuses on the “idea of multicultural literature and how we can create and incorporate literature in the classroom.” As a future educator, Darby faces the challenging task of making each student “feel valued and seen in the classroom.” Her interest in multicultural literature began after reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, which opened her eyes to how students could feel invisible if they did not see themselves represented. This directed her focus towards the need for expanded access to multicultural literature. Darby understood how essential it is to “incorporate culturally responsive teaching in the classroom.” 

Recognizing this need inspired the development of her project. She is creating a picture book for the Maasai girls who attend Nasaruni Academy in Kenya. Many of the donated books at Nasaruni Academy, a primary school, are told “from an American perspective and feature white characters.” The girls at Nasaruni Academy do not see themselves represented in the stories they are reading. 

Darby says, “I don’t want to be the voice for the picture book, I want girls at Nasaruni to be the co-authors and allow myself to be a vessel for their stories to be heard.” She hopes that her capstone project “will add representation to their shelves.” Darby currently has weekly Zoom meetings with six girls from Nasaruni to hear their stories and collect information for the picture book. Recently one Maasai girl shared this statement with her: “Since I’ve been at Nasaruni, I’ve learned that every child deserves the right to education.” Inspired by this statement, Darby hopes that her Honors Capstone Project provides a valuable contribution to Nasaruni Academy. 

However, the scope of Darby’s project extends beyond Nasaruni Academy. Darby also wants to distribute copies of her book in Harrisonburg “to create a deeper multicultural understanding within our own community.” Through writing the picture book, Darby wants to create “representation in literature” and demonstrate the importance of “culturally responsive teaching.”

“One of my main goals as a future educator is to be inclusive and to allow every student to feel seen and known and loved in the classroom,” says Darby. Through her capstone project, Darby is taking the needed first step to expand multicultural education and access to literature. As she looks to the future, she hopes that she can continue to help individuals find themselves represented in the community they are a part of. 

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